Research news

Breast surgery to avoid cancer makes women fret over body image

Women who have breast surgery to avoid the risk of cancer have a negative body image for years afterwards, a study finds

Women who have breast surgery to avoid the risk of cancer have a negative body image for years afterwards, a study finds


Picture: Getty Images

Negative perceptions of a poor, altered body image persist for many years in women who have undergone breast surgery to lessen the possibility of an inherited augmented risk of breast cancer, a Swedish study has found.

Researchers from Stockholm followed up on the experience of women who had undergone a mastectomy, asking about their satisfaction with breast reconstruction, the impact of surgery on their body image, self-consciousness, attraction, femininity, sexual functioning, anxiety and depression.

A total of 136 women consented to information being obtained from medical records and the mean follow-up time from surgery was 11.5 years.

Better counselling and decision-making

Irrespective of whether a woman received a diagnosis of cancer or underwent prophylactic surgery, all reported enduring problems with their body image. Discontent and unhappiness with the operation, unsightly scars, feeling ‘less whole’ and feelings of being less feminine persisted.

Concerns of reduced sexual and physical attractiveness were expressed by about 70% of the women with cancer and 50% of the women without cancer.

The authors say this is the first such long-term investigation and the findings could be useful in informing and improving counselling, decision-making and consent procedures.


Dion Smyth is a lecturer-practitioner in cancer and palliative care at Birmingham City University

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs