We all know that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in theU.S.It affects women of all ages. The key to treating breast cancer is early detection. Detection begins with monthly self-examinations by all women, an annual examination by a gynecologist or other primary care physician, and screening mammograms in women over the age of 40. Women with a strong family history of breast cancer should even undergo screening at a younger age.

A woman diagnosed with breast cancer will often require surgery: either removal of the tumor and some surrounding breast tissue (lumpectomy), or complete removal of all of the breast tissue (mastectomy). Despite the seemingly wide-scale awareness of breast cancer and the many celebrities and influential people who champion the cause, it is an unfortunate fact that close to 50% of all women who undergo surgery for breast cancer are NOT referred to a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction. This means that many women who are candidates for reconstruction are never being offered this option.

A federal law mandates that all insurance companies must pay for plastic surgical reconstruction following breast cancer surgery. This includes:

– post mastectomy reconstruction

– post lumpectomy reconstruction when necessary

– revisions of previous reconstructions no matter how old or recently performed

– nipple reconstruction and tattooing to recreate an areola

– symmetry procedures on the non cancer breast such as augmentation or reduction

It is important to note that although breast cancer reconstruction is usually done at the time of the cancer surgery (e.g. mastectomy), it can be performed at any time after that. The key point is that ALL women with breast cancer should be referred to a plastic surgeon to discuss their reconstructive options. We encourage all breast cancer patients to ask their treating physicians about breast reconstruction. Ideally, this should take place before any breast cancer surgery. It is entirely a woman’s choice whether or not to undergo reconstruction. However, one cannot make an informed choice without being offered the options.

Picking the right plastic surgeon requires a little bit of homework as well. Start by asking around: most people know someone who has undergone breast cancer reconstruction. In addition, the oncologists and breast surgeons are all familiar with the plastic surgeons in their community. Make several appointments with various plastic surgeons. At least two or three opinions are worth getting. Make sure the plastic surgeon is board certified and well trained in breast reconstruction. Look up reviews on the internet, and ask to see before and after photographs. Most importantly, he or she should be able to offer you the full spectrum of reconstructive options, such as procedures that use your own excess skin and fat (flap), and not just an implant reconstruction.