Must I have a mastectomy?

If you’re considering testing, the idea that you MUST have a mastectomy to avoid getting breast cancer may be very overwhelming.  

But it’s major surgery and I’m scared

But my breasts are an important part of my body image and femininity

But what if I want to breastfeed

But someone I know had complications after her operation. What if that happens to me?

But I won’t be able to work or look after my family during the recovery period

But don’t I have any other options? 

And the list of your concerns may go on.  

The first thing to keep in mind is this: having a mastectomy is not your only option.  The NHS does offers other options for women to manage their increased breast cancer risk.   

From the age of 30 (and in some cases from 25) females with a BRCA gene fault can enrol in enhanced breast cancer screening, which involves annual MRIs or mammograms. The enhanced screening is in contrast to the regular national breast screening programme, which is for women age 50+ and involves mammograms every 3 years. Screening means that should a woman be developing breast cancer; it is caught at an early stage when outcomes are better. Additionally, some women (depending on their particular genetic fault) can be offered preventative medication, which is proven to reduce the risk of (ER+) breast cancer developing.  

Both screening and medication options are effective and for some may be preferable alternatives to surgery, either in the short or longer term.  

Beyond this fact, there are other really important points to bear in mind.  

  • It is normal to find the idea of major surgery scary. You may feel differently when faced with the reality of a positive test result- and even if you don’t, that’s okay.  
  • No clinicians can or will force you in to having surgery  
  • It is both valid and clinically acceptable to decline or delay surgery and choose other options  
  • Women with a positive BRCA test result are guided by professionals in understanding the benefits and risks of surgery (and the other risk management options) and are able to make their own decision in their own time 
  • There are national and community resources out there that can help you to make the decision about surgery, as well as ‘hold our hand’ if you go ahead with it 

To hear how some real women have navigated their risk management journey following a BRCA diagnosis, click here.  

To read more about the risk management options for women, click here.

To explore other information and support resources for individuals identified as having a BRCA gene mutation, click here.