The issue of breast reconstruction after mastectomy is one that I find particularly important. It can be extremely valuable for the mastectomy patient and extremely rewarding for the reconstructive surgeon. However, surprisingly few women actually choose to undergo reconstruction, even though legislation requires all insurance policies to cover it. According to a study performed by Alicia Holt, MD, Surgical Fellow at City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, California, only about 20% of eligible women opted for this procedure in 2007.
Why is this? As an Alabama plastic surgeon with years of experience performing breast reconstruction procedures, I have some ideas. I believe the main reason for the low percentage of women pursuing the procedure is lack of information. There are plenty of resources out there, but evaluating the information and understanding the options can be difficult. Here, the guidance of a qualified and caring doctor is absolutely essential.
Physicians should be clearly articulating the benefits of the procedure, which are substantial. First, there’s the obvious aesthetic improvement – breasts regain their shape, looking better both in and out of clothes. Then, there are the emotional and psychological benefits. After breast reconstruction, women report improved self-confidence. They also explain that breast reconstruction helped them feel “whole” again – so that they weren’t reminded of the trauma of their illness every time they looked in the mirror. Reconstruction can be an important stepping stone on the road to emotional, psychological and spiritual recovery.
At the end of the day, despite all the benefits, breast reduction is optional – and a woman’s informed choice not to pursue the procedure should be respected. However, women should actually be informed so that they can make the decision for themselves. They should know their options for reconstruction, even before mastectomy has been performed.
If you are a woman who has had a mastectomy, or if you have been told that you will need one, talk to your doctor about breast reconstruction. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and obtain more information about the different types of procedures offered, the benefits/drawbacks of reconstruction, and the various procedural options before making a final decision. It is important that you take the time to assess if this surgery is right for you, because every woman deserves a choice.