Understanding Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

From First Lady Betty Ford's public announcement of her diagnosis of breast cancer in 1974 to actress Angelina Jolie's more recent op-ed in the New York Times, there has been a persistent focus on the screening and treatment of breast cancer, and for good reason.

Breast cancer remains the most common type of cancer in the United States, with more than 234,000 new cases expected in 2015. About 12% of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. These statistics are daunting for anyone, and are the primary motivation for the American Cancer Society's recommendation of obtaining annual mammograms starting at age 40.

Over the past forty years, we have made significant advances in the treatment of breast cancer, including specific drugs designed to target breast cancer cells, as well as improved techniques in breast reconstruction. Until recently, it was not uncommon for a woman with breast cancer to undergo surgical removal of all or a part of her breast without being made aware of the options available to surgically restore her breast.

In 1998, Congress passed a federal law requiring all insurance providers to pay for any reconstructive procedures on a breast with cancer, as well as any procedures on the other breast to help them match each other. Since that time, and with the help of advocacy like Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, rates of breast reconstruction have increased dramatically in this country.

The decision to undergo breast reconstruction is a highly personal one, and like any surgical procedure there is a balance of risks and benefits to consider. Scientific studies have demonstrated that breast reconstruction after mastectomy improves quality of life, self-esteem, and sexuality for patients.

It is important for both the patient and the plastic surgeon to realize, however, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some women choose not to have any reconstruction and feel fully whole at the end of their battle with cancer. For many others, breast reconstruction helps achieve a sense of restoration and self-image essential to their recovery.

For more information on Breast Reconstruction at Cooper University Hospital, click here.