Question:

What is a bilateral mastectomy?

Understanding Bilateral Mastectomy

A bilateral mastectomy is a procedure to remove the breast tissue in both of the breasts. Removing the tissue in both breasts may be necessary because cancerous cells exist in both of the breasts or it may be useful as a preventive measure. When breast cancer is detected, the doctor and the patient may make the decision to undergo a mastectomy instead of other treatment methods. A mastectomy is recommended as the preferred treatment method in a number of different situations. Some of these situations include pregnant women in the first or second trimester of the pregnancy, widespread tumors which encompass the majority of the breast tissue, multiple tumors located in different parts of the breast, failed previous radiation treatments, a strong family history of breast cancer, a gene mutation which carries a risk of developing breast cancer again and even living too far away from the nearest radiation treatment center. Patients who fall into one or more of these categories and have evidence of cancer in each of the breasts may be candidates for a bilateral mastectomy.

Even in cases in which cancer is only affecting one of the breasts, a bilateral mastectomy may still be considered. This is called a risk-reducing or prophylactic procedure which means the second breast is being removed as a preventative measure. This is especially common in breast cancer patients who have a strong family history of breast cancer or who carry the gene mutation which puts them at high risk for developing breast cancer again in the future.

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