Sharon Osbourne just celebrated her 60th birthday, 30 years of marriage to rocker Ozzy Osbourne, and success as a television personality. Never shy or terribly private about her life, she has just revealed that she has had a prophylactic double mastectomy. The vibrant and outspoken celebrity was not diagnosed with breast cancer, but recently found out that she has one of the genes for breast cancer - possibly BRCA1 or BRCA2. Having a genetic mutation like this increases her odds for eventually developing breast cancer, and since she is already a colon cancer survivor, she knew what the road ahead might be like. "I've had cancer before and I didn't want to live under that cloud: I decided to just take everything off, and had a double mastectomy," said Osbourne.
Having a double mastectomy is difficult physically and emotionally, but when there is no breast cancer to remove, we say the woman is a previvor. A cancer survivor has been diagnosed with the disease, but a previvor has faced having a high risk, or genetic predisposition to cancer. After having genetic testing, your results will range from negative to positive to ambiguous. There's no way to know in advance what the test results will show of what your odds of risk for cancer will be - but it will affect your future health decisions and even your lifestyle choices.
For young women, the choice of surgery to reduce the risk of breast cancer may be particularly difficult. Surgical options can include mastectomy, as well as removal of ovaries or uterus. If a premenopausal woman finds that her genetic risk is higher than average, she may even wait some years before having surgery, if she had plans for more children. But she may also be advised to take hormonal therapy to reduce her risk, and that would include estrogen-lowering medications. Either way, her decision will affect her fertility, but treatment for breast cancer - if it develops - would also limit her ability to conceive.
In Sharon Osbourne's case, she has a grandchild to consider. "I want to be around for a long time and be a grandmother to Pearl," she said, referring to Jack Osbourne's first child. She said her decision about the double mastectomy was, "a no-brainer."
Her surgery took 13 hours, so it's safe to assume that she had immediate breast reconstruction. No stranger to plastic surgery, she already had trouble with breast implants that were used to create her 34DD bust line. The implants had leaked into her abdominal cavity. My guess is that she could have opted for autologous reconstruction - based on the time the operation took - so a free flap method such as DIEP or IGAP - both of which use self-donated tissues - may have been options for her. Recovery is expected to take from three to six weeks. She'll need plenty of family support during that time, and I hope her colorful relatives are up for the task. We wish her well!