cancer prevention thru surgery

I have a friend, “G”, whose MIL is dying of cancer. It’s been a 15 year battle, starting with ovarian cancer, then to breast cancer and now I think it’s in the bone. My friend’s wife “L”, who is also an RN, is planning on a hysterectomy sometime at the end of the year. They have 5 children, so are done in that area. She is also considering a double masectomy, as she is also carrying the gene that predisposes her for breast cancer, aside from the family history. I was stunned when he told me this. G seemed quite fine with the idea, as he would rather have a wife than be a widower, but I’m still a little troubled by their decision. Not that it matters, of course.

These folks are college educated, L obviously has some medical knowledge, but she is also a worrier. They are not stupid, but this seems like such an extreme step that I just can’t quite get my head around it. In the same situation, would I agree with my wife to take such drastic steps? when discussing it, my sister in law said something like “what makes her a woman after that?” I don’t think that’s my problem with it, but surgery has its own risks, and these are not root canals they’re considering.

Comments? Personal experiences?

IF she’s carrying one of the BRCA genes that puts her at high risk of cancer this actually does make some sense.

Yes, it is an extreme and drastic step … but carriers of the genes have an extremely high risk of having cancer, which is a pretty extreme disease if it’s not caught early.

There have been some studies done showing that for BRCA carriers phrophylactic removal of breasts, uterus and ovaries (they are also at high risk of ovarian cancer) after they’ve completed childbearing does significantly reduce the chances of cancer in these women. (It does not completely eliminate it, however - such women continue to need frequent screening) Many medical authorities are starting to see this as a reasonable option for such women.

As for the comment “what makes her a woman” after all that - well, if later on she has actual cancer the butchery required to save - or maybe just to merely extend - her life is going to be far more devastating and debilitating than such preventive surgery as she is contemplating.

It’s really about playing the odds - this would make zero sense in a woman a normal risk of breast cancer, but there is an identifiable sub-group of women who are at miuch, much higher risk than usual.

The complete and utter bitch about ovarian cancer is that there are no symptoms, no easy self tests you can use, at all until it is way too late do do anything except “get your affairs in order”

If a woman knows she is at high risk, and genetics is a big player in this case, and she has had all the children she wants, there is a good chance that she will save her life by having her uterus and ovaries removed. This doesn’t make her any less of a woman than would menopause.

Yes, this sounds perfectly rational to me considering that she evidently carries the BRCA gene. For someone with a normal risk of cancer a prophylactic mastectomy/hysterectomy might be going overboard, but for BRCA gene carriers the risk of surgery is definitely justified. In some studies, surgery cuts the risk of cancer by 90+% for that group of women.
I would do the same thing if I were in her position, especially since she has had to watch a loved one suffer with the disease for so long. Sure, no woman wants to have to lose her breasts, but it would be foolish to risk death for the sake of vanity.
My condolences to them on the MIL’s illness.

I am at high risk for breast cancer, because of my family history (mom and maternal grandmother). I haven’t been tested for the gene, however. But if I knew I had the BRSA thingy, I’d probably want mastectomy-with-reconstruction, too. After all, I just had a hysterectomy to eliminated the likelyhood of cervical cancer.

And as for the ‘what makes her a woman’ comment…well, that’s just incredibly insensitive. As if a woman is nothing more than the sum of her reproductive parts. Sheesh.

I had an acquaintance with a woman who had breast cancer in only one breast. She opted to remove the second, even though her risks of it redeveloping were fairly low. Later I found out her insurance company refused (after the operation, mind you) to pay for the removal of the second. That was so disheartening.