Breast cancer in young women: examining meanings post contralateral prophylactic mastectomy

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University of New Brunswick


Breast cancer is the malignant growth of cells originating in breast tissue. Breast cancer primarily occurs in women aged 50-69; however, 18% of cases occur in women under 50 years of age. The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer exerts significant stress on young women’s sexuality, including reproduction, femininity, and relationships. Surgical removal of breast tissue is commonly used to treat breast cancer. Increasingly, young women with unilateral breast cancer are choosing to have both breasts surgically removed. This is known as contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM). Research studies on sexuality in young women with breast cancer who have undergone CPM are limited, suggesting a gap in knowledge related to the psychosocial needs of these women. This qualitative research study used van Manen’s Phenomenology to examine the research questions: 1) What meanings do young women with breast cancer ascribe to their experiences post CPM 2) What meanings do young women with breast cancer ascribe to their sexuality post CPM? A total of seven women diagnosed with unilateral breast cancer, aged 31 to 52 were interviewed and asked to describe their experiences of sexuality post CPM. The essence of these young women’s experiences of sexuality post CPM is described as “My body is scarred, but for that I am stronger”. The essence is supported by the three following themes: 1) My breast decision: Empower me to make informed treatment decisions about my breast health; 2) Defining a new normal for intimacy post CPM; and 3) Supporting me in coping with my chest without breasts. The uncovered meanings in this study will provide healthcare professionals with knowledge and understanding of the psychosocial needs of these women, and elicit information to inform and advance practice to improve quality of life of young women diagnosed with breast cancer.