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Sharon Osbourne's Double Mastectomy Was a 'No-Brainer'

For women who carry a gene mutation that predisposes them to breast and ovarian cancer — and even for some women who don't — a double mastectomy may be the best way to lower their risk of developing breast cancer..

By Sharon Kay

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MONDAY, Nov. 5, 2012 Sharon Osbourne revealed toPeopleandHellomagazines that she had a preventive double mastectomy last summer to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. The 60-year-old talk-show host, and wife of rock singer Ozzy Osbourne, discovered that she carried a defective gene that predisposed her to breast cancer and decided not to take any chances.

"For me, it wasn't a big decision, it was a no-brainer," she revealed in an interview withHello. "I didn't want to live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me."  Osbourne was successfully treated for colon cancer 10 years ago.

An estimated 60 percent of women who carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations will develop breast cancer compared to an estimated 12 percent of women in the general population, according to the National Cancer Institute. BRCA1 and BRCA 2 also put women at risk for ovarian cancer.

Women who believe they may be at risk for BRCA gene mutations can have a blood test that looks for mutations in these genes, which normally help control cell growth. If a woman is found to have BRCA mutations, she will be counseled about her risk for breast or ovarian cancer. Men with BRCA mutations are also at risk for breast cancer.

A preventive mastectomy reduces a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by 90 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute. But opting to remove both breasts isn't necessary for every woman at risk for breast cancer — it's only recommended for women at very high risk for breast cancer.

A woman could be at very high risk based on the following:

  • Family history. A woman with multiple family members diagnosed with breast cancer may consider preventive mastectomy, particularly if any of the family members were younger than age 50 when diagnosed. Having multiple family members with either breast or ovarian cancer increases breast cancer risk.
  • Previous breast cancer. Women who have had breast cancer in one breast may choose a prophylactic mastectomy for the other breast to reduce their risk of further cancer.
  • Previous radiation treatments. Having had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts prior to age 30 increases breast cancer risk in women. Women who had this type of treatment and are at increased breast cancer risk may consider preventive mastectomy.
  • Biopsy showing pre-cancerous cells. Lobular carcinoma in situ is an abnormality in the breast cells that raises breast cancer risk.
  • Dense breasts, which are difficult to screen. Having dense breasts or many small calcium deposits in the breast increases the risk of breast cancer and makes abnormalities in the breasts more difficult to spot.

Deciding Whether to Remove Your Breasts

Osbourne is one of several celebrities who have brought attention to the decision to remove both breasts after learning about a gene mutation or having breast cancer. Among them are actress Christina Applegate, reality TV star Giuliana Rancic, and comedienne Wanda Sykes. But increasingly, more women of all ages are struggling with the decision and the outcome of removing their breasts.

Slayton Haney, a 23-year-old accountant from Orlando, Fla., learned that she had stage IIA breast cancer in 2011 after finding a lump in her breast. Haney did not have a family history of breast cancer, and she did not test positive for a BRCA mutation, but she elected to have a preventive double mastectomy anyway.

“When I was first diagnosed, I said I wanted the least-invasive procedure possible. I’d never had surgery before, so I wanted to do whatever would be the easiest. But after talking it over with my doctors and some of my mom’s friends who have breast cancer, I decided I didn’t want to live the rest of my life worrying about getting sick again. I wanted to just take care of it, and then I wanted to move on,” she said. “I even asked the doctors at Mayo, ‘If I were your daughter or your sister, what would you want me to do?’ And they all answered, ‘Oh, definitely a mastectomy.’ So I said, ‘Take them off." Haney said she was also inspired by Giuliana Rancic's public struggle with breast cancer.

The decision to elect preventive mastectomy is increasingly popular with the availability of genetic testing, but women who undergo the procedure may experience anxiety and depression as they confront the loss of their breasts and the decision to go through reconstructive surgery.

Deciding Whether to Have Breast Reconstruction

When Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg learned she carried the BRCA gene mutation after being diagnosed and treated for stage IIA breast cancer in 2002, she mourned the loss of her breasts. In addition to a double mastectomy, Mirriam-Goldberg also had a prophylactic hysterectomy and oophorectomy to remove her uterus and ovaries. The multiple surgeries took a heavy toll, and she decided not to opt for reconstructive surgery, but to use a prosthetic bra instead. "I thought my body had been through enough," she explains of her decision to forgo additional surgeries. "Reconstruction just felt like something that would cause a lot of extra pain and heartache, and there were easier solutions to pursue instead of that."

Reconstruction after mastectomy boosts women's psychological, social, and sexual health, according to research published in the journal Cancer. But survivors also report feeling a sense of freedom without the weight of their breasts. Some — like Jodi Jaecks, the Seattle woman who won the right to swim topless in her community pool this summer — even take comfort and a sense of pride in their scars.

Another celebrity, Jewel, is helping to spread the word about breast reconstruction for women who choose preventive mastectomy and opt for breast reconstruction.  Through the initiative Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, Jewel recently helped to shed light on the options available to women, including implants, autologous reconstruction (use of tissue from another part of your body to build a breast), and a combination of the two.

"Many women who've battled breast cancer grapple with the reality of their new, altered silhouettes," Jewel explained. "The question often remains, what’s the next step? Breast reconstruction following mastectomy is attributed to a significant improvement in self-esteem and quality of life. It can play a huge part in the healing process.

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