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Ann Surg Oncol. 1999 Sep;6(6):546-52.

Issues of regret in women with contralateral prophylactic mastectomies.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York 10021, USA.



Patients with a history of carcinoma of one breast have an estimated risk of 0.5% to 0.75% per year of developing a contralateral breast cancer. This risk prompts many women to consider contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM) as a preventive measure. Virtually nothing is known about patient acceptance following CPM. We have developed a National Prophylactic Mastectomy Registry comprised of a volunteer population of 817 women from 43 states who have undergone prophylactic (unilateral or bilateral) mastectomy.


Of the 346 women with CPM who responded to national notices, 296 women returned detailed questionnaires. The information obtained included patient demographics, family history, reproductive history, ipsilateral breast cancer staging and treatment, as well as issues involving the CPM.


At median follow-up of 4.9 years, the respondents were primarily married (79%), white (97%) women who had some level of college education or above (81%). These women cited the following reasons for choosing CPM: (1) physician advice regarding the high risk of developing contralateral breast cancer (30%); (2) fear of developing more breast cancer (14%); (3) desire for cosmetic symmetry (10%); (4) family history (7%); (5) fibrocystic breast disease (4%); (6) a combination of all of these reasons (32%); (7) other (2%); and (8) unknown (1%). Eighteen of the 296 women (6%) expressed regrets regarding their decision to undergo CPM. Unlike women with bilateral prophylactic mastectomies, regrets tended to be less common in the women with whom the discussion of CPM had been initiated by their physician (5%) than in the women who had initiated the discussion themselves (8%) (P = ns). Family history and stage of index lesion had no impact on regret status. The reasons for regret included: (1) poor cosmetic result, either of the CPM or of the reconstruction (39%); (2) diminished sense of sexuality (22%); (3) lack of education regarding alternative surveillance methods or CPM efficacy (22%); and (4) other reasons (17%).


To minimize the risk of regrets in women contemplating CPM, it is imperative that these women be counseled regarding an estimation of contralateral breast cancer risk, the alternatives to CPM, and the efficacy of CPM. In addition, these women should have realistic expectations of the cosmetic outcomes of surgery and understand the potential impact on their body image.

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