Imagine finding out you have breast cancer and need to undergo a mastectomy. But what happens next? How do you move forward after such an emotional experience?
While plastic surgery is rarely covered by most insurance providers, breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is a different issue. Access to this type of coverage isn’t guaranteed to all women who undergo a mastectomy; there are intricate details under current laws that block women from receiving this kind of care. Elderly and underprivileged women are especially under-served with regards to breast reconstruction following a mastectomy.
Breast reconstruction surgery can be an important process in the physical and psychological recovery from breast cancer, according to a study in Cancer Nursing. By understanding the support needs of patients who have undergone breast reconstruction procedures, healthcare practitioners can better support those who have this surgery and better guide patients who might be considering the same.
Women’s support experiences are shaped by interactions with healthcare providers, family members, friends, and other women who have experienced breast reconstruction. The most important of these needs include access to information, help with daily tasks, emotional connection, and being understood, though women’s support experiences and their need for support can differ widely.
Federal lawmakers passed the Women’s Health and Cancer Right Act into law in 1998, a bill which mandated that insurance companies provide coverage for post-mastectomy breast reconstruction. There has been a steady increase in the number of women undergoing post-mastectomy breast reconstruction, but according to a study in ,Cancer Control, far less than expected, with recent data suggesting 33% of eligible women in the United States undergo immediate or early delayed breast reconstruction.
Under the WHCRA, mastectomy benefits must cover:
- Reconstruction of the breast that was removed by mastectomy
- Surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to make the breasts look symmetrical or balanced after mastectomy
- Any external breast prostheses (breast forms that fit into your bra) that are needed before or during the reconstruction
- Any physical complications at all stages of mastectomy, including lymphedema (fluid build-up in the arm and chest on the side of the surgery)
Breast reconstruction can be done immediately after mastectomy surgery or later as a second surgery depending on an individual’s preference and needs, reports the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation at the University of Michigan. And there are now at least six different breast reconstruction options available to meet the varied needs different women may have4.
Studies show that giving patients the opportunity to meet with a reconstructive surgeon to discuss reconstructive options and facilitating patient education about breast reconstruction are immediate steps that can be taken by physicians to minimize disparities in support.
“Whenever the word mastectomy is mentioned by a surgeon, the next words need to include the possibility of ‘breast reconstruction,’” Henry Kuerer, M.D., executive director of breast programs at MD Anderson Cancer Network in Houston, tells BreastCancer.org. “Whether best performed immediately versus delayed has to do with multidisciplinary team discussions regarding subsequent treatment needs including radiotherapy.”
Breast reconstruction should be available to EVERY mastectomy patient. Stand up for women everywhere and click below to support custom breast reconstructions for women who have undergone a mastectomy.