How a double mastectomy can influence your career

October is International Breast Cancer Awareness month. 

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), in 2012 there were 1.7 million people suffering from breast cancer worldwide.

Fighting this illness physically is only one part of the challenge. Research has found that treatment can also have a significant effect on a woman's career.

Working women who choose an aggressive treatment for breast cancer are likely to miss a significant amount of time before being able to return to their job.

That's the conclusion of a study that focused on approximately 1 000 women in Georgia and Los Angeles who had to decide between various options for dealing with their cancer diagnosis.

Less aggressive treatment

More than 60% of the women, aged 20 to 79, chose a lumpectomy, a relatively less aggressive intervention.

One-third chose chemotherapy, while 16% had one breast removed (a unilateral mastectomy), the study authors said. Another 23% had both breasts removed (a bilateral mastectomy), which is considered the most aggressive option.

Nearly 85% of the women had been working full-time prior to their diagnosis. Those who chose a bilateral mastectomy with breast reconstruction were eight times more likely to miss over a month of work than those who underwent a lumpectomy, the study authors reported.

Missing a month of work had considerable financial consequences. Nearly one-third of women who were off for more than a month lost over $5 000 (±R68 000) in income, the researchers said.

The study findings were reported in the online edition of the journal Cancer.

Peace of mind

"Prior studies have shown that most of the women who had bilateral mastectomy could have chosen lumpectomy but chose the more aggressive surgery, often out of a desire to improve peace of mind," said study author Dr Reshma Jagsi, of the University of Michigan.

A few years ago Hollywood star Angelina Jolie revealed that she had undergone a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer.

"This study helps to quantify the impact of this decision on the employment and financial experiences of those women soon after diagnosis," she explained in a journal news release.

"The impact of treatment on employment and finances is a consideration that women may wish to take into account when weighing the pros and cons of various surgical options they are considering," Jagsi suggested.

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