Rates of bilateral mastectomy as treatment for unilateral breast cancer have been rising. Quantitative analyses have resulted in assumptions about why women choose this procedure, without confirmation from the women.
The objective of this study was to explore a woman’s decision making in the choice of bilateral mastectomy as a treatment for unilateral breast cancer, regardless of stage.
A qualitative descriptive design was used. In-depth interviews were conducted by 2 researchers using a semistructured interview guide to elicit data, which were coded and analyzed using thematic analysis.
Twenty-three women were interviewed. Five themes were identified that address specific determinants of the decision-making process: finding something, collecting evidence, perceived level of risk, identifying priorities, and making the decision. Nine women reported that their physicians recommended bilateral mastectomy.
Women who recalled being advised of their risk of recurrence reported overestimates of that risk. The reasons women chose bilateral mastectomy were to avoid a lifetime of follow-up screenings with the subsequent fear of hearing that the breast cancer had returned and wanting to stay alive and well for their children and families.
Implications for Practice:
Except for women carrying genetic susceptibility to breast cancer, bilateral mastectomy is not considered the standard of care. Yet women are being offered or choosing this procedure. Nurses can be advocates for women by speaking positively about how women have the right to choose their treatment based on best evidence and personal choice. This evidence should include benefits and risks of the treatment.