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The Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at Dana-Farber provides a variety of services to help patients and their families cope with the many physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment. We are committed to helping patients regain a sense of control over their lives and feel their best throughout treatment and beyond.
A: The first step is to find out if you have an inherited predisposition to breast cancer. This is best done by seeing a cancer genetics counselor, who can talk with you about your family history and decide which genetic tests, if any, could be informative.
A: Women who are at high hereditary risk for breast cancer due to a gene mutation may decide to have a preventive mastectomy because:
Preventive mastectomies are done most often on women in their 30s and 40s, but women at both ends of the age spectrum also have this surgery. In some cases, the decision to have this surgery depends on when a woman discovered her hereditary risk. In other cases, something in a woman's recent experience may have altered how she feels about having this surgery.
A: Usually, it is well-meaning family members, friends, or colleagues who want to spare you what they consider to be the difficulties of this surgery by suggesting that it is not necessary. However, only a woman who faces such risks truly understands the pros and cons of this decision, and this decision is individual for every woman. A woman and her sister may come to very different conclusions about whether breast surgery is the right choice or whether maintaining screening is the preferable way to deal with hereditary cancer risks. It may be helpful to gently remind friends or relatives that you will take their concerns into consideration and appreciate that they are thinking about you, but let them know that you have to make the decision that best fits your life and your worries, and you will appreciate their support of your decision.
If you are at high risk for breast cancer due to a genetic cause and are considering a preventive mastectomy, but would like to discuss psychological considerations, make an appointment with Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program psychologist, Andrea Patenaude, PhD, at 617-632-5577.
For patients who have undergone preventive mastectomy or bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes), Dana-Farber's Sexual Health Program is a resource for patients concerned about sexual health. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 617-632-4523.