Christina Applegate Decides on Double Masectomy -Would You?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • “This was the choice I made.”

    With those words, spoken in an interview on Good Morning, America earlier today, Christina Applegate summed up her decision to have a double mastectomy. The television actress had both breasts removed three weeks ago, after cancer was found in one breast, and the second was determined to be cancer-free. Applegate told Good Morning host Robin Roberts (herself a recent breast cancer survivor) that she’s "absolutely 100 percent clear and clean."  “I’m definitely not going to die from breast cancer,” she added.

    More and more women are opting to remove both breasts, when cancer has been found in either one. Most of these women believe a mastectomy will prevent a recurrence. That’s not entirely true; breast cancer can come back in the chest wall, or in a tiny remaining bit of breast tissue, even after a mastectomy. And breast cancer can’t “recur” in the opposite breast; cancer on the other side would be a new cancer. Nonetheless, removing both breasts does indeed cut the risk of recurrence drastically, giving these women a much-needed sense of security about their future.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    Applegate, 36, will have reconstruction, and she joked about having “the best boobs in the nursing home.” She had earlier tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which put her at increased risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. No doubt that test result made her decision for a bilateral mastectomy somewhat easier.

    I’ve written several times about the double mastectomy controversy. But I don’t judge. Whether or not to cut off your breast is about as personal as a decision can get. And there are so many factors affecting it—the presence of a gene mutation, type of cancer, degree of aggressiveness—that it simply doesn’t make sense to paint the subject with a broad brush. All I can say with certainty is what I’d decide. Which would be to take one breast, and leave the other.

    I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer, which carries a higher risk of a new cancer in the opposite breast than does IDC (ductal carcinoma). But at the time, I wasn’t informed of that heightened risk. I recall that months after the surgery, during a follow-up visit, a serious young intern asked my surgeon whether “the patient has been informed of the increased probability of cancer in her other breast.” My surgeon shot him a dagger look, and he retreated to the corner. And I thought to myself, “Huh, wonder why they never told me that?”

    But you know what? I didn’t care. It wouldn’t have made any difference. I strongly believe in taking things as they come, not looking too far ahead; and NOT trying to control my life. I like to be the fallen leaf that floats atop the surface of the flooding river, rather than the tree whose roots prove a deadly anchor. I want to see where life takes me. And if it takes me on another cancer journey, so be it. I have great faith that I’ll survive the second go-around, same as I did the first. And if I don’t… well, that’s life. And death.

  • I hope you never have to choose whether to remove just one, or both of your breasts. But if you do, it’s a decision that really makes you look hard at yourself: what you value, what you fear, and how you balance the two. And that kind of self-knowledge is a good thing to have.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:
Published On: August 19, 2008