Thousands undergo controversial preventive surgery - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Thousands undergo controversial preventive surgery

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Angelina Jolie Angelina Jolie
Tiffany Berry Tiffany Berry
Rose Phillips Rose Phillips
RN Leesa Mattingly RN Leesa Mattingly

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - If there was something that threatened your life, how far would you go to get rid of it? What if that something was part of your own body? Every year, thousands of women make the decision to remove one or both breasts to try to fight off the risk of developing cancer.

If we hadn't heard about this before, certainly the world got a big wakeup call earlier this year when the spotlight of Hollywood shined its light on preventive surgery that could save a life.  Headlines and Angelina Jolie go hand in hand. So in May, when the actress announced she tested positive for the breast cancer gene and had both of her breasts removed to reduce her lifetime risk her decision went up for debate.

"To do that for her to be comfortable for the rest of her life and every woman should be allowed to make that decision," said Rose Phillips.

Phillips said she was comfortable with a less radical plan when she found out she had cancer: a lumpectomy and radiation. For her, that was enough. She celebrated 10 years of surviving at the 2013 Making Strides walk in Louisville, "But ultimately I tell everyone that I run into, it is a personal decision."

"I can't put myself in that patient's shoes and know what it's like to wake up every day and say, 'I have a pain or I have an ache or this doesn't feel right or this doesn't look right. Could it be the cancer?'" said RN Leesa Mattingly, a patient navigator for Norton Cancer Institute.  That's sort of a friend with medical knowledge who helps guide women through their decisions following a cancer diagnosis and a prophylactic mastectomy -- preventive surgery -- she said, generally comes up.

"A lot of patients ask about that," she said.

People like Mattingly and Breast Surgeon Tiffany Berry know that even though medical science can provide hard facts, emotions factor into these decisions.

"Oftentimes they've thought a whole lot about this," Berry said. "This is something where it's affected their whole family, maybe they've been through a really bad experience with their mom or their sister who's suffered with breast cancer and they just don't want to put themselves or their family through that."

Doctor Berry said preventive surgery patients also include those who carry the breast cancer gene and women whose bodies make it harder to catch cancer.

For her and the other women in this story the hope is the double mastectomy debate will be ultimately silenced.

"The ultimate goal here of course is to find a cure for breast cancer," said Phillips.

Mattingly said while every plan is different, for cancer patients who do make the decision to have a preventive mastectomy, insurance often covers it. She said other options aside from surgery include more frequent mammograms and the use of MRIs.

Copyright 2013 WAVE 3 News.  All rights reserved.

 

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