Christina Applegate: Back to Work After Double Mastectomy


Actress Christina Applegate went back to work this week. On Monday she returned to the filming of her ABC comedy, Samantha Who?.

Applegate, 36, had a double mastectomy in July after being diagnosed with cancer in one breast in April 2008.

She has been nominated for an Emmy award for lead actress in a comedy series for her performance on the show, which is in its second season, and is scheduled to present at the Emmy Awards this Sunday, September 21.

Applegate, whose mother also had breast cancer, decided to undergo the double mastectomy as a preventive measure after undergoing two lumpectomies and testing positive for a breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA.

The decision was difficult, she said in an August interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America, but it greatly decreases the chance of her cancer returning. “This was the choice that I made,” she said, “and it was a tough one.” During the interview, she said she is now cancer-free.

While having a double mastectomy sounds like a radical choice, it can be a good option for some women with a very high risk of cancer, or cancer recurrence.

Applegate appeared in a star-studded television event, Stand-Up to Cancer, on September 5. The one-hour, commercial-free program aired during prime time on NBC, ABC, and CBS and raised $100 million for cancer research.

During the program, Desperate Housewives star Dana Delany underwent an on-air mammogram.

Annual mammograms are recommended for most women starting at age 40, but Applegate underwent earlier screening due to her family history of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is relatively rare in young women, making up about 4% of all cases in the United States. However, that still represents 8,000 women, so young women who detect a lump in their breast should be evaluated by a doctor. (Take our quiz to learn about breast cancer risk factors.)

Like Applegate, women with a family history—a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer, not a distant cousin—may need to begin routine screening earlier than age 40.

Applegate’s cancer was diagnosed during a doctor-ordered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, another breast cancer detection method that’s generally reserved for women at higher cancer risk due to the test's higher cost and greater risk of false positives (test results that seem suspicious but turn out to be nothing).

MRIs can offer a more detailed analysis of breast tissue than mammograms, but there’s some evidence that they may delay treatment or increase the likelihood of a mastectomy when given to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.

Samantha Who? premieres on October 13.


Related Links:

25 Breast Cancer Myths

A Mountain Climber Walks Away From Cancer

Take Our Breast Cancer Quiz

Breast Cancer: I Was Discriminated Against at Work