“Sometimes you gotta take a bullet to dodge a cannonball,” says cancer survivor Joel Slaven on 34 Inspiring Cancer Quotes From Survivors. If you’re wondering if you should get a preventative mastectomy, you might think of breast cancer as the cannonball and surgery as the bullet. A double mastectomy will wound you and change you forever…but it won’t destroy you like a cannonball.
Should you get a preventative mastectomy? I’m not arguing for or against surgery to prevent the possibility of breast cancer. I am, however, encouraging you to ask your oncologist — and at least one other doctor — ten questions before you make a decision. A preventative double mastectomy may be the bullet you take to dodge the cannonball of breast cancer…but it’s still a bullet.
I recently wrote an article about my experience with a gynecologist who recommended I get a hysterectomy. In that article (5 Questions to Ask Before You Get a Hysterectomy) I quoted America’s most popular doctor: Mehmet Oz. He shared five secrets of smart patients (which I tweaked to become five questions a woman should ask her surgeon before getting any type of surgery).
This morning I woke up and asked myself, “If a doctor told me I’d probably be diagnosed with breast cancer within five years, would I get a preventative double mastectomy?” I think I would, even though I despise the pain and suffering of surgery. I’ve never been diagnosed with breast cancer, but I have had two shoulder surgeries and one gall bladder surgery. I also have ulcerative colitis. I’ve never had a single or double mastectomy, but I did write 18 Gift Ideas After a Mastectomy or Breast Cancer Surgery while a friend was recovering from surgery.
Are you wondering if you should get a preventative mastectomy? Perhaps you were recently diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer, and your doctor or oncologist is recommending a single or doubt mastectomy. Or maybe breast cancer runs in your family and you’ve been tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. There’s a good chance the cannonball of breast cancer will hit you sooner or later…and you’re asking yourself if a preventative double mastectomy is a good idea.
These questions to ask before you schedule a double mastectomy are inspired by an article called “Secrets of the Smartest Patients” by Dr Oz in a back issue of O magazine. He recently wrote Food Can Fix It: The Superfood Switch to Fight Fat, Defy Aging, and Eat Your Way Healthy — an excellent resource for women. Food won’t cure breast cancer, but it can help you get healthier and stronger after a mastectomy.
10 Questions to Ask Before Getting a Preventative Mastectomy
“Despite our best efforts, physicians do sometimes get it wrong,” says Dr Oz. “In fact, a recent study of more than 350,000 malpractice claims found that missed, incorrect and delayed diagnoses were the most dangerous mistakes doctors made, and they’re estimated to result in permanent injury or death for up to 160,000 Americans annually.”
5 questions to ask before getting a preventative double mastectomy:
- Does a preventative mastectomy mean I’ll never get breast cancer?
- Can I get a mastectomy without having cancer?
- Do women regretting double mastectomies to prevent cancer?
- How much does a preventable mastectomy cost?
- Does my health insurance cover mastectomy surgery if I don’t have cancer?
Those are five questions to ask your oncologist and insurance provider because they depend on your body, physical health, and situation. Below are five more questions to ask your doctor; the answers are still person-specific, but with additional information. Dr Oz says the best way to protect ourselves from medical mishaps, medication errors and unnecessary surgeries is to ask your doctor these questions. Again, I’m not arguing for or against a mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. I’m simply sharing what I learned.
1. Do you need to see the tests the other doctor ran?
Before you get a preventative double mastectomy, ask the oncologist if he or she needs to see your previous health tests, blood work, and other records. Call your previous doctor and ask for copies of your records. “These files contain much more than just your vitals; they include consent forms, physicians’ orders, test results, pathology reports, and immunization records,” says Dr Oz.
The information could help your oncologist avoid doing repeat tests, spare you unnecessary discomfort and cost, and even re-evaluate the decision to have a single or double mastectomy. The oncologist may see patterns or get information that makes it unnecessary to have breast cancer surgery.
2. Should I get a second opinion about a preventable mastectomy?
I think this should be one of the first questions to ask before you get breast cancer surgery. Looking back, I now realize how foolish it was for me to schedule a major surgery like a hysterectomy based on a 10-minute consultation with a gynecologist. It happened so fast, I barely had time to think! If you feel more than than the normal discomfort or anxiety that typically accompanies surgery or a health procedure, ask your oncologist if you have time for a second opinion.
“Stop worrying that you’ll offend your doctor,” says Dr Oz. “Smart physicians know that smart patients seek out other points of view before making major decisions. Begin your search for a second opinion by contacting local chapters of medical associations that specialize in your condition.” Look for an Association of Oncologists Specializing in Women’s Health or a Breast Cancer Association before you schedule a preventative mastectomy. If your first two cancer doctors don’t agree (for example, the first oncologist advises you to get a preventative double mastectomy and the second oncologist recommends letting nature take its course), get a third opinion.
3. Do we have time to talk about my questions today?
Patients — especially female — tend to clam up in the presence of specialists such as male oncologists who authoritatively recommend preventative mastectomies. I, too, feel overwhelmed in a doctor’s office. I’m not worried about being seen as difficult or aggressive (which some female patients do worry about). I just freeze.
You may have heard the advice to write down your questions before your oncology appointment — especially if you’ve already been advised to get a preventative mastectomy. Take it one step further and ask the doctor if he or she has time to discuss your questions today. Getting a mastectomy may seem like no big deal to a surgeon who slices a dozen breasts off a dozen women a week…but this is a huge deal to you. Also, bring someone with you to your oncologist appointment. Ask him or her to write down everything the doctor says (or record it). This way you won’t miss or forget important information.
You might also want to ask your oncologist about prayers for healing and recovery after surgery. Many doctors have a sense of the power of God in the operating and recovery room.
4. How will a preventative mastectomy affect my other health issues and medications?
According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 66% of patient visits end with the doctor pulling out the prescription pad. It’s no wonder, then, that more than 10% of Americans are currently taking five or more medications! And almost all of us have or have had some sort of health condition or problem in the past.
“If you’re taking prescription medication, bring it with you to the doctor’s appointment,” says Dr Oz. “Just writing down the names of medications leaves too much room for error; one misspelled word or misplaced decimal point changes everything. Instead, gather up pill bottles (over-the-counter and supplements included) and show the oncologist.” You might also take pictures of your pill bottles and prescriptions. Ask the oncologist how the preventative mastectomy will affect your prescription medications, medical conditions, and future health.
5. Do I have another option, other than a double mastectomy?
“Should I get a hysterectomy?” was the question I asked my gynecologist. It was the wrong question. He said yes; he’s a surgeon who specializes in removing uteruses and ovaries and other female parts! Of course he recommended getting hysterectomy after a 10 minute consultation and without running any tests (he used my family doctor’s test results).
“For many conditions, there are several alternatives for care, often ranging from the conservative (wait and see) to the aggressive (a surgery such as a hysterectomy),” says Dr Oz, author of Food Can Fix It: The Superfood Switch to Fight Fat, Defy Aging, and Eat Your Way Healthy. “Each approach comes with its own risks and benefits. But the recent research suggests that doctors don’t always do a good job of informing you of all your choices. And that can lead to preference misdiagnosis — when your doctor makes an assumption about which treatment you’ll want and, as a result, present you without only a narrow range of options.”
Before you decide to get breast cancer surgery…
Read Dangerous Boobies: Breaking Up with My Time-Bomb Breasts for author Caitlin Brodnick’s personal experience with a preventative double mastectomy.
After watching too many family members die of cancer, this public speaker was tested at age 28 for the BRCA1 gene mutation. The test came back positive, indicating an 87% chance she’d be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. So she had a preventative double mastectomy (yes, like Angelina Jolie!).
In this book Caitlin tells the full story, even sharing what it was like to go from a size 32G bra (giant, for a woman who is barely over five feet tall!) to a 32C. She admits to hating her breasts long before the double mastectomy and enjoying the process of “designing” her new breasts. She got to choose the shape as well as the size and color of the nipples.
Before you decide if you should get a preventative double mastectomy, talk to women who have been through the surgery. And, get information about all prevention and treatment possibilities from a variety of health care practitioners.
If you decide to go ahead with the surgery, read 17 “Get Well Soon” Gift Ideas for After Surgery. These aren’t your typical post-mastectomy gifts; each one is designed to help with recovery and healing after a major surgery.