The word prophylactic comes from ancient Greek, where it means an 'advance guard'. In medical terms it refers to any practice that is undertaken to prevent future complications or disease.
A prophylactic mastectomy is just this – the removal of one or both healthy breasts to prevent future occurrence of breast cancer. The aim of the procedure is to remove all breast tissue that could potentially develop breast cancer at a later date. This is only advised where there is a strong likelihood of breast cancer developing due to genetic predisposition (i.e. family history), specifically where the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations are present.
There is another type of prophylactic mastectomy, called a 'contralateral prophylactic mastectomy', where both breasts are removed, even though only one has been affected by breast cancer. This is to prevent cancer developing in the healthy breast.
Dr John Gault can advise on the suitability of either type of prophylactic mastectomy.
Read more about Breast Reconstruction.