Breast Cancer Awareness Is Only a First Step

One in eight US women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Overcoming breast cancer is a personal journey with choices along the way. There are choices about the type of breast surgery, the need for additional treatments and options for breast reconstruction. Research has found that breast reconstruction contributes to a woman’s self-esteem and sense of wellbeing; however, more than 70 percent of women eligible for breast reconstruction are not told about all of their options.

The media frequently heightens awareness of breast cancer, but awareness doesn’t always translate into a positive impact on health care. Agreeing or disagreeing that Angelina Jolie Pitt’s decision to surgically remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes to prevent ovarian cancer was a heroic and courageous move is a matter of perspective. However, in between the lines of Angelina’s latest article in the NY Times (“Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery”, NY Times, March 24, 2015) lies a subtler message… KNOWLEDGE IS POWER AND WOMEN NEED TO ADVOCATE FOR THEIR OWN PHYSICAL HEALTH. This is a dialogue we need to have with ourselves. Angelina Jolie Pitt made choices consistent with her history and lifestyle. As the Delphic Maxim on the Temple of Apollo reads “Know thyself.” Each person is driven by different motives and sensitivities, personally unique to their individual circumstances. There is always more than one way to deal with any health issue. The most important thing is to learn about your options and choose what is right for you and your loved ones.

Every woman diagnosed with breast cancer should seek a referral to a plastic surgeon to learn about all of her reconstructive options before her cancer is treated and removed. Breast reconstruction after mastectomy or lumpectomy generally falls into two categories: implant based reconstruction or reconstruction using a person’s own tissue, also known as autologous reconstruction. Autologous reconstruction can be subdivided into flap reconstruction, total reconstruction with autologous fat transfer, or a combination of the two. Reconstructive techniques are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and often techniques are combined to give the best result.

Breast reconstruction is staged which means more than one surgery will need to be performed to reconstruct the breasts to a more natural shape and size. Not all plastic surgeons are the same, and in one’s weakness lay another’s strength. Speaking to more than one plastic surgeon may help a woman affected by breast cancer (and her family) see the picture through a wider lens.

As health care professionals, we are here to help you make the decisions that will give you the best quality of life in the long run. In closing her article Jolie Pitt poignantly wrote, “It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you.”