Preventive mastectomy (also called prophylactic mastectomy or risk-reducing mastectomy) is the surgical removal of one or both breasts. It is done to prevent or reduce the risk of breast cancer in women and men who are at high risk of developing the disease.

Research shows that preventive mastectomy may significantly reduce the chance of developing breast cancer in moderate- and high-risk women by about 90 percent.Many women who choose to have preventive mastectomy also decide to have breast reconstruction to restore the shape of the breast.

What to Expect After a Mastectomy

Patients who have had a mastectomy may stay in the hospital for one to three days depending on the type of surgery. Patients who have immediate reconstruction following their mastectomy may stay a little longer. Following a mastectomy many women go home with drains in their chest. Their surgeon will remove the drains during a follow up office visit.

Making the Decision to Have a Preventive Mastectomy

It is important for women considering preventive mastectomy to talk with their doctor about their risk of developing breast cancer (with or without a mastectomy), the surgical procedure and potential complications. All women are different, so preventive mastectomy should be considered in the context of each woman’s unique risk factors and her level of concern.

Preventive mastectomy is just one of several options available to prevent cancer in women (and men) who are at high risk for breast cancer. Some doctors may advise very close monitoring (periodic mammograms, regular checkups that include a clinical breast examination performed by a health care professional and monthly breast self-examinations) to increase the chance of detecting breast cancer at an early stage. Some doctors may recommend preventive mastectomy, while others may prescribe medications that have been shown to decrease the chances of getting breast cancer in women at high risk of the disease.

Cancer risk assessment and prevention services are available through Cooper’s Cancer Genetics Program.