Whether or not you are politically interested or whether you’ve participated in breast cancer advocacy, the passing of this law will mark a moment to be celebrated by every person who has ever known someone who has gone through breast cancer.
Why does it matter?
Can you imagine that? I hope you can’t, because I hope this isn’t something you’ve experienced, and yet we know many of our readers have. Think, you’re getting ready to have a body part amputated, and the physician fails to mention that there are surgeries available to restore that body part (or, at least, one similar to it, if never quite the same as the original) to you.
Who cares if this is a breast or a foot? It’s your body part, and if such a thing exists, you need to know! You have the right to make an informed decision.
However, in failing to mention it to you, in failing to consider your potential desire for reconstruction, the surgeon will likely also not attempt to conduct the surgery in such a way as to make reconstruction easier and more aesthetically pleasing down the line (such as by using a skin-sparing or nipple-sparing technique during the mastectomy). Thus the patient’s ignorance in the moment turns into a long-term loss, even if she does eventually pursue reconstruction years later.
Some shocking statistics
- “The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015, about 231,840 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States.”
- “African-American women under the age of 40 have a greater incidence of breast cancer than Caucasian women of the same age.”
- “The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 (Public Law 105–277) requires health plans that offer medical and surgical benefits with respect to a mastectomy to also provide coverage for all stages of reconstruction of the breast on which the mastectomy has been performed, surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to produce a symmetrical appearance, prostheses, and physical complications of mastectomy, including lymphedemas.”
- “A 2007 study by Amy Alderman, M.D., at the University of Michigan reported that up to 70 percent of women eligible for breast reconstruction are not informed of their reconstructive options by their general surgeon.”
- “A 2003 study by Alderman and others found that race is a significant predictor of reconstruction. Compared with the odds of reconstruction for Caucasians, the odds of reconstruction for African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are significantly less.”
- “A 2007 study by Caprice Greenberg, M.D., of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and others found that Hispanic patients were less likely to receive reconstruction. This may be because of language barriers between the patient and provider. Although 72 percent of patients who primarily spoke English went on to receive reconstruction after discussing it with their providers, no patient in the study with a primary language other than English went on to receive reconstruction.”
- “The low use of reconstruction for minorities is not explained by lower demand for the procedure. Lower health literacy, financial issues, and less access to plastic surgeons emerged as barriers to reconstruction in the 2009 Alderman study. These results suggest that there is a substantial unmet need for information, especially among racial and ethnic minority groups, regarding reconstruction options and coverage required under the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998.”
Ladies, it’s time to be told you have the right to breast reconstruction. Whether you have private insurance, Medicare, or insurance with your employer, if your mastectomy is covered, all desired reconstruction will likewise be covered.
You have the right to know this, and the government now recognizes this fact.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services, in conjunction with the appropriate medical societies and advocacy groups, will be required to create and implement an educational campaign. More specifically, the following information must be published and given to all patients waiting breast cancer surgery:
- “Breast reconstruction is possible at the time of breast cancer surgery, or at a later time.
- Prostheses or breast forms may be available.
- Federal law mandates both public and private health plans to include coverage of breast reconstruction and prostheses.
- The patient has a right to choose a provider of reconstructive care, including the potential transfer of care to a surgeon that provides breast reconstructive care.
- The patient may opt to undergo breast reconstruction some time after the time of breast cancer surgery for personal or medical reasons, during treatment or after completion of all other breast cancer treatments.”
Much thanks and gratitude to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) who worked hard and relentlessly on getting this piece of legislation passed. Without them, this piece of legislation would likely still only be a dream for breast cancer advocates. Many women will benefit from the ASPS’s hard work.
We’re very excited for women to start being told their rights from the very beginning of their breast cancer journey. We hope more women will have the opportunity to make a choice that is right for their lifestyles when given further information. We likewise hope that as more women understand their right to reconstruction, our website will become a valuable resource to learn more along the journey.
To learn more about your rights as a woman with breast cancer, view our “Bill of Rights” here.