I have to give E! talk show host Giuliana Rancic credit for being so open with her breast cancer treatment. First, she revealed that her cancer was diagnosed via a mammogram that she had before her third round of fertility treatments. Then, she spoke about her lumpectomies to get rid of the multiple growths, and now she’s revealed that she’s going back to the operating room to have a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction instead of radiation treatments.
In an interview on the Today show this morning, Rancic and her husband Bill revealed that her previous lumpectomy didn’t remove all the cancer, so she would have needed additional surgery with the radiation. The couple opted instead for a mastectomy—and removal of the other healthy breast.
Rancic said she went public to take the “stigma away” from the word mastectomy, which “seemed so scary” to her at first but was her ultimate decision after careful consultation with her doctors and other breast cancer patients.
Having not had the surgery yet, however, Rancic did give the impression that her recuperation would be swift, saying she hoped for a “full recovery by New Year’s Eve.” She also noted that she’d be having breast reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy, a procedure called immediate breast reconstruction.
As the American Cancer Society website states, “after the first surgery, there still may be a number of steps that are needed to complete the immediate reconstruction process. If you are planning to have immediate reconstruction, be sure to ask what will need to be done afterward and how long it will take.”
In general, immediate reconstruction with its longer and more involved surgery requires a longer hospitalization and more recuperation time than mastectomies alone, which could mean a few months, rather than a few weeks, of pain and discomfort. And women who opt for mastectomies usually must cope with the loss of sexual sensations in their newly constructed breasts, an issue that gets little attention in this debate.
Other celebrities have also gone public with their decisions to have double mastectomies as preventive measures. Christina Applegate, who said she carried the BRCA-1 gene mutation, had the procedure several years ago, and comedian Wanda Sykes more recently announced she had both her breasts removed after having a stage zero in situ cancer diagnosed in one breast.
For Applegate who carried a high risk of developing an aggressive tumor, a double mastectomy reduced her chances of getting breast cancer by about 90 percent.
Both Sykes and Rancic said they preferred the more radical procedure to the anxiety of having twice yearly mammograms to check for cancer. And both felt the surgery gave them a better shot at survival than alternatives like lumpectomy with radiation accompanied by regular screening. That’s a notion disputed by many research studies.
As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I do wonder how well doctors educate women on the pain and length of time that goes into recuperation from a double mastectomy and reconstruction. I hope for Rancic’s sake the she really does recover fully by New Year’s, but if she doesn’t, she may want to do yet another interview on the realities of breast reconstruction to help other women make informed decisions.Deborah Kotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.