In 2013, it was revealed that A-list celebrity Angelina Jolie had chosen to undergo a double mastectomy – removal of both of her breasts – as a preventative measure against developing breast cancer.
This brave decision was made as Jolie had lost her mother at the age of 56 to breast cancer, and she had found that she was a carrier of a ‘faulty’ hereditary gene which put her at high risk of developing the disease. As a mum of six young children, her decision was based on ensuring that her children did not grow up without their mother, if she were to develop the disease.
Thanks to highly developed and precise medical testing, Jolie was told that she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer. The choice to undergo the double mastectomy has reduced her risk to just 5%.
Possible steps after a mastectomy
Angelina Jolie chose to have her breasts reconstructed with breast implants after the initial surgery to have her natural breasts removed. This is a step favoured by many women who are in a similar position to Jolie, requiring (or choosing) either to have a single or double breast removal.
- Immediate reconstruction: In some cases, the breast reconstruction can take place immediately after the initial breast removal, so the whole operation is done at one time. This is a much bigger operation to undergo, and the recovery time is longer, but once it is complete the overall process tends to be shorter.
- Delayed reconstruction: Alternatively, some women prefer (or are required to) leave a gap between the initial removal and the follow up reconstructive surgery.
Implants are one option for breast reconstruction, the other route is called flap reconstruction. Instead of skin being moulded around a silicone implant, flap reconstruction involved tissue being grafted from other areas of the body (for example the thighs, buttocks, tummy or back) and inserted under the skin to form the reconstructed new breasts. As this tissue is live, it is a more complex operation, requiring a longer period in hospital at the beginning of the process.
The decision about which route is best for you will be made in collaboration with your consultant, who will be able to assess your case and make recommendations accordingly. Sometimes the decision rests with personal preference while other times it is guided by medical necessity.