Doctors Less Likely to Tell Older Women About Reconstruction

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Breast reconstruction during or after surgery to remove breast cancer (mastectomy or lumpectomy) is an important option that ALL women should discuss with their doctors.

A study found that doctors may not discuss breast reconstruction options with a woman before she has a mastectomy, especially if the woman is older, Hispanic, or less educated. Younger, more educated, or white women are more likely to be told about reconstruction. Other research has shown that many women aren't referred to a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction options, even after mastectomy.

Not all women want breast reconstruction after surgery to remove breast cancer. Reconstruction is a personal choice and you need to decide what's best for your situation. In the United States, most women who have mastectomy also have one or both breasts reconstructed. In many but not all cases, breast reconstruction can be done at the same time as mastectomy or lumpectomy. So it's important that ALL women, no matter their age, race, or education, talk to their doctors about breast reconstruction BEFORE surgery to remove breast cancer.

If you've already had a mastectomy or lumpectomy and you and your doctor didn't discuss reconstruction beforehand, you can still talk to your doctor about breast reconstruction. You may decide not to have reconstruction, but it can be helpful to consider all your options. If your surgeon doesn't bring up reconstruction, ask for more information and a referral.

Here are some questions you might want to consider as you're making your decision about breast reconstruction:

  • Is it important to you to have a permanent breast shape? Some women prefer to wear a prosthesis instead of having reconstruction.
  • Is it important to you that your breasts to look balanced when wearing a bra and bathing suits? Though you'll be able to see the difference between the rebuilt breast and your other breast when you're naked, reconstruction usually looks very natural when you're wearing a bras or bathing suit.
  • In your unique situation, will breast reconstruction involve several surgeries over a long period of time? For many women, the answer is yes.
  • Will your insurance pay for all the reconstruction procedures? Find out what your insurance company will cover.
  • Did you have a lumpectomy that gave your breast a very different shape than it originally had? If you had a large portion of tissue removed, you might want to have reconstruction to restore a more balanced look.
  • Do you have any other medical conditions that might affect your ability to heal after surgery? If you have diabetes, circulatory problems, or a bleeding disorder, it may take your body longer to heal from reconstruction surgery than someone who doesn't have these conditions.
  • Do you have a condition that might give you a distorted image of your body? If you've been diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, you may have a hard time accepting how your body looks in general, which may make it hard to accept how your reconstructed breast looks.

For more information, including types of reconstruction and the timing of reconstruction, visit the breastcancer.org Reconstruction section.

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