Breast Cancer Treatment Poses a Tough Choice

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It's not for everyone. And it takes a healthy dose of courage to make the decision. But a new and highly regarded study published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that women with a high risk of breast cancer can reduce the risk of getting the disease by 90 percent by having both breasts surgically removed before the disease appears. While the study is good news, says TIME health reporter Janice Horowitz, "it places high-risk but healthy women in a horrible dilemma."

"It is important to remember," Horowitz emphasizes, "that this radical procedure should be viewed as something to be considered only by women at the highest risk" This is not for any woman who simply had a relative with breast cancer. "This is for women who had a close relative with breast cancer, like a mother or a sister," says Horowitz, "and most importantly, a close relative who developed the disease at an early age." Obviously, a double mastectomy is a tough decision that should be made in close consultation with a physician. Women should remember that there are other preventive alternatives such as early and regular breast examinations, and a drug regimen. All the choices have drawbacks, however, and in the end, says Horowitz, "it comes down to a very personal decision on how you want to live your life."