By LIz Neporent
Updated: January 30, 2017
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Sharon Osbourne revealed this week that she had an elective double mastectomy after learning she had a gene that increases her risk of breast cancer. The operation is usually reserved for women who already have cancer, but the 60-year-old co-host of The Talk said she had the surgery to prevent cancer from striking down the road.

“I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with that shadow hanging over me,” Osbourne recently told the British magazine, Hello!

According to Julie Silver, MD, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey, Osbourne’s decision to undergo the radical surgery wasn’t some celebrity whim.

“For someone who tests positive for BRCA--the breast cancer gene--a prophylactic mastectomy is often lifesaving,” Dr. Silver says.

Having a mastectomy to stay one step ahead of cancer can be dramatic and heart wrenching choice, but Dr. Silver says it can be a game changer in high risk situations. A woman who is genetically predisposed to developing breast cancer is far less likely to ever be diagnosed with the disease after having the surgery.

However, anyone who goes forward with the treatment--whether or not they have cancer--needs to understand there can be complications from the anesthesia and that post-operative recovery is often slow and painful. And if a woman also opts for breast reconstruction, this will involve additional surgeries and an even longer recovery.

“Rehabilitation, including physical therapy, is important for all women who undergo mastectomies, whether they have cancer or not,” Dr. Silver says.

If, like Osbourne, you discover you have the breast cancer gene, Dr. Silver urges you to speak to your doctor. Only a medical professional can help you accurately assess the pros and cons of having preemptive surgery.

“The Internet is a wonderful resource for information, but it can't take the place of getting expert advice about your unique family history and personal genetic makeup,” Dr. Silver notes. “Deciding whether it’s the right move for you depends upon your specific circumstances.”

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