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Ask the Expert: What kind of emotional impact does breast cancer surgery have?
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - There is new information involving the emotional impacts of treatment that could help women diagnosed with breast cancer.
This new study was one of the largest of it's kind ever done, and it could make a big difference in what type of treatment women choose when keeping at least one breast is considered a good option.
It's one of the first to look at things such as stress and worry that often follow surgery, and women's health specialists at St. Elizabeth Healthcare say it brings up a really important discussion to have before this surgery.
Janice Godbey admits that even now, a year after her diagnosis of breast cancer, that she still working through some of the emotional aspects of surgery.
Dr. Michael Guenther says many women go through the emotional impacts from surgery to remove the cancer and reconstruct the breast.
Surprisingly, however, Dr. Guenther says what most women don't realize is that, in most cases, a lumpectomy and mastectomy for almost every woman have the same survival and the same recurrence rate.
Even so, a study by PCORI , or the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute recently found many women choose to remove the other healthy breast as an extra precaution.
Godbey says she's now seeing the emotional aspect of her treatment choice.
"You've lost parts of your body; that's something you're never going to get back," Godbey said. "When I started to look at it that way, I'm still having a hard time owning it."
The PCORI study looked at a very important part of those choices, not just physically and whether or not the cancer returns, but, more importantly, some of the things that go on with your psychological and physiological wellbeing.
The research team looked at two groups in this study: patients who had both breasts removed and patients who had part or all of the breast with the cancer removed, but kept the healthy breast.
"Most of the time, people do have a choice between keeping a breast or removing it," said Dr. Guenther.
Dr. Guenther says in those those who removed a healthy breast, there was a much higher emotional impact.
"There's a lot of physical issues; there's some discomfort that happens; there's a lot of self-image issues, and there's even some sexual issues with spouses and loved ones that you wouldn't necessarily understand," Dr. Guenther said.
Dr. Guenther suggests all women consider this information when making treatment choices:
"The numbers are pretty high--it's almost 50 percent of people have some sort of alteration in what they like and don't like; it's a real number," he said. "It is life changing. There is a new normal now, and you learn to be content with that and even happy."
It's important to point out there are specific considerations such as precancerous cells, genetic mutations and even family history that may lead your healthcare provider to suggest removal of both breasts. These are things that can impact long-term survival.