There is a woman in a doctor’s office at this moment who just heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” In 19 short seconds, another woman will receive the same life-changing diagnosis somewhere around the world. 19 seconds after that, the cycle will continue.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, people all over the globe work to call attention to startling statistics. It is important for everyone to understand what breast cancer is, how it can be detected, and how we can all band together to provide hope and care to those battling the disease.
October is not only a time to spread the word about breast cancer, but also about breast reconstruction.
In 2011, Canadian plastic surgeon Mitchell Brown, MD saw the need for more outreach on the subject and so started the BRA (Breast Reconstruction Awareness) Day initiative. His belief was that every woman should be informed of all the breast reconstruction options legally available to her. The movement quickly gained momentum, and was soon adopted here in the United States with the backing of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Plastic Surgery Foundation™.
Breast reconstruction, or the rebuilding of the breast tissue after its removal during mastectomy, is not for everyone. There are some breast cancer survivors who simply do not wish to have another surgery. Others choose to restore their breast shape through reconstruction in order to regain confidence, look balanced in clothing or bathing suits, and avoid hassling with a prosthesis.
As a plastic surgeon who offers breast reconstruction at my plastic surgery practice in Naples, BRA Day is especially close to my heart. I want to share a few lesser-known facts about breast reconstruction.
According to BRA Day organizers:
- Only 23% of women know the wide range of breast reconstruction options available.
- Only 22% of women are familiar with the quality of outcomes that can be expected.
- Only 19% of women understand that the timing of their treatment for breast cancer and the timing of their decision to undergo reconstruction greatly impacts their options and results.
Why is this important? After mastectomy, women in the United States have special rights under the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act. This law, enacted in 1998, states that if your group health plan covers mastectomies, the plan must also provide reconstructive surgery and other post-mastectomy benefits.
Reconstruction can be done immediately, at the time of mastectomy, or it can be delayed. A delayed reconstruction is typically performed when radiation treatments are necessary after mastectomy. When possible, immediate reconstruction has proven benefits.
A 2011 study by ASPS found that when reconstruction was done right away there were greater results in cosmetic outcomes, shorter recovery times, and decreased costs. Immediate reconstruction has also made it easier for survivors to cope, lessening their risk of depression. For these reasons, BRA Day organizers believe it is important for women to be informed of their reconstruction options from day 1.
I want to go back to that woman in the doctor’s office whom I talked about at the beginning of this post. The woman who has just learned of her breast cancer diagnosis. I wish her all of the support possible from family, friends, co-workers, and her community. I hope that she stays strong and finds the courage that only 19 short seconds earlier she didn’t know she had. And I hope that in few minutes more, she will find out about her options for breast reconstruction.