Breast Reconstruction: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

When Angelina Jolie revealed earlier this month that she recently underwent a double mastectomy after learning that she had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer, it came as a shock to many of her fans. One thing that surprised no one, however, was that the Hollywood star—still in her thirties, and with much of her career ahead of her—also elected to undergo breast reconstructive surgery, including implants, after the mastectomy. For a celebrity like Jolie, breast reconstruction is a given; for many women who have their breasts removed as part of cancer treatment, however, it is not. Health plans that include breast cancer coverage have been required to cover breast reconstruction and prostheses since 1998, yet studies have shown that many women—especially minority women—who are eligible for breast reconstruction following breast cancer are never informed of that fact. Afraid of the costs of the surgery, many of these women never end up pursuing reconstruction, even though they may want it.

With this in mind, a bipartisan group of U.S. House Representatives introduced the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act this month, a piece of legislation that would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to plan and implement an education campaign to inform women that federal law mandates coverage of breast reconstruction, even if it is delayed until after other treatments. I’m proud to say that the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), of which I am a longtime member, has announced its strong support of this bill, as well as its intention to continue in its own ongoing efforts to educate women with breast cancer about their treatment options.

Accessible breast reconstruction should be a given for all women with breast cancer, not just the famous ones. With bills like the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act and groups like the ASPS fighting for it, hopefully that ideal will become a reality in the near future.