Positive, negative, and disparate--women's differing long-term psychosocial experiences of bilateral or contralateral prophylactic mastectomy

Breast J. 2008 Jan-Feb;14(1):25-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4741.2007.00521.x.


Because of recent studies showing strong prevention benefit and acceptable psychosocial outcomes, more women may be considering prophylactic mastectomy. A growing literature shows some positive psychosocial outcomes for women with bilateral prophylactic mastectomy, but less is known about women with contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Several surveys have shown that a large majority of women with prophylactic mastectomy report satisfaction with their decisions to have the procedure when asked in a quantitative, closed-ended format. We sought to explore the nuances of women's satisfaction with the procedure using a qualitative, open-ended format. We included open-ended questions as part of a mailed survey on psychosocial outcomes of prophylactic mastectomy. The research team coded and analyzed these responses using qualitative methods. We used simple descriptive statistics to compare the demographics of the entire survey sample to those women who answered the open-ended questions; the responses to the open- and closed-ended satisfaction questions, and the responses of women with bilateral and contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Seventy-one percent of women with prophylactic mastectomy responded to the survey and 48% provided open-ended responses about psychosocial outcomes. Women's open-ended responses regarding psychosocial outcomes could be coded into one of three general categories--positive, negative, and disparate. In the subgroup of women with both open- and closed-ended responses, over 70% of women providing negative and disparate comments to the open-ended question simultaneously indicated satisfaction on a closed-ended question. Negative and disparate open-ended responses were twice as common among women with bilateral prophylactic mastectomy (52%) than women with contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (26%). These findings suggest that even among women who report general satisfaction with their decision to have prophylactic mastectomy via closed-ended survey questions, lingering negative psychosocial outcomes can remain, particularly among women with bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. This dichotomy could be an important factor to discuss in counseling women considering the procedure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires