Breast Cancer surgery can be one of the most devastating experiences in a woman’s life. Not only are patients exhausted from their battle with cancer and worried about their future, but a mastectomy (the surgical removal of one or both breasts) can leave a woman feeling less like her old self than ever before. That is why a new statistic by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons came as such a shock: nearly 70 percent of women eligible for breast reconstruction after a mastectomy are not informed of the surgical options available to them.
The difference in those seeking reconstruction and those who did not was most apparent when comparing different racial and ethnic groups. In another study by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center Latina who spoke limited English were less likely to undergo reconstruction than white women, black women, and English speaking Latina women. While 41 percent of white women and English speaking Latina women underwent reconstruction, only 14 percent of less acculturated Latinas did. Because of the language barrier that exists between patient and doctor, patients who spoke limited English were less informed of their options.
In fact, a related study showed that women who were simply referred to a reconstruction doctor during their breast cancer surgery were much more likely to undergo the procedure. In the ACS Clinical Congress study, 92 percent of patients who were referred underwent reconstruction and none of the non-referred patients underwent the surgery!
The statistics above show how much a little information can do to help a patient realize their recovery options. That is why new technology is emerging to help patients become more aware of their options. For instance, there is a computer based decision making aid on the market right now that teaches patients their various reconstruction options. According to a study conducted at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, women who used the CD learning module were more involved in choosing reconstruction than those who did not, and they believed they were offered a greater number of surgical options for breast reconstruction – once again highlighting how empowering information can be.
The bottom line is that all women should be informed of all of their options from the onset of their breast cancer diagnosis. Whether or not a woman chooses to undergo breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is a personal decision – yet every woman deserves the right to make that decision.
It is important to present plastic surgery as an option from the onset of treatment; that way, doctors can work together every step of the way to give a patient the best possible treatment. In fact, many patients choose to have their breasts reconstructed during the same time as their mastectomy to reduce the number of surgeries needed.
Education is only one of the ways to make the battle against breast cancer more bearable; that is why Dr. Whiteman developed a “buddy system” in the offices of Southern Plastic Surgery. His support program gives breast cancer patients the option to speak with other survivors to gain a better understanding of what to expect from their surgery.