Choosing An Elective Mastectomy

Shiite Muslim worshippers flagellate themselves to mark the Muslim festival of Ashoura, outside the Imam Hussein Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006, in the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad.
Reducing cancer risk weighs heavily upon those with a family history of the disease. Now a new study provides help in evaluating the effectiveness of preventative measures. CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports.

It's called prophylactic mastectomy the removal of both breasts in women at high risk to prevent the occurrence of cancer.

With Wednesday's announcement from the Mayo clinic, women considering this controversial procedure for the first time know how much they can reduce that risk.

"We see that there has been a 90 percent or greater reduction in breast cancer in this group," says Dr. Lynn Hartmann, Mayo Clinic.

That's good news for women like Kerrine Ryan. She had both her breasts removed as a precaution four years ago after her mother and grandmother died from breast cancer.

"I had really lived with the reality that I knew I was getting breast cancer my whole life," said Ryan.

She didn't have the benefit of today's research, but believes she made the right decision.

"I was pleased after I had it done because they found a tumor that they never knew was there," said Ryan.

Surgeon Rache Simmons of the Strang Cancer Prevention Center says while this new study will help patients to make informed decisions prophylactic mastectomy will still not be a popular choice.

"Women typically don't want to undergo this procedure for obvious reasons. Most women would choose as an alternative to be followed very carefully by a breast surgeon, which would include regular examinations and also regular mammograms,"says Dr. Simmons.

And as radical as the procedure is, it is not 100 percent effective.

Even after mastectomy, there remains some breast tissue that can turn cancerous. But for some women, who believe developing breast cancer is inevitable, they now know they can dramatically reduce their risk.