Started in Canada in 2011, Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day has gained significant attention in North America as an annual event which promotes awareness about access to post-mastectomy reconstructive breast surgery.
Whilst not all women are suitable for breast reconstruction, or indeed may choose not to have it, only a third of women who undergo mastectomy in New Zealand follow through with reconstructive surgery.
Dr Meredith Simcock, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Middlemore Hospital and spokesperson for BRA Day on behalf of the New Zealand association of Plastic Surgeons (NZAPS), says that reconstruction can hugely help women who have had cancer to regain their self esteem and to feel more ‘normal’ again. “Mastectomy is a daily reminder for women of a very traumatic time in their lives and it can help hugely if breasts are restored to as near their natural state as possible,” she says. “Breast reconstruction surgery can help alleviate some of the physical and emotional stress associated with battling cancer, making it a crucial step in the healing process.”
Some women may be suitable for a breast reconstruction, or the beginnings of one, on the day of the mastectomy while for some women it may be some time before they are ready for the surgery. There are various options that women can consider for the reconstructive procedure but the most natural and long-lasting surgery can involve using tissue from the woman’s own body, such as the abdomen to fashion a breast. Implants may also be used. Depending on the surgical option chosen, the length of time for both the surgery and the finished result will vary. Radiation treatment can also affect the time-frames and reconstruction choices, for example, an implant sometimes may not be inserted if radiation therapy is to be undertaken.
Dr Simcock says breast reconstruction can be a much more satisfying option for many women who may be currently using an external prosthesis. “The prosthesis can be inserted into a special bra, but they do not move normally with the body and of course once the bra is off, the scars can be very evident.” Dr Simcock is concerned that so many women do not know that they may be entitled to breast reconstruction surgery within the public system. “Currently only a third of mastectomy patients are having reconstruction surgery. International data suggests that it should be twice that many women having the surgery.”
Dr Simcock spoke about BRA day and reconstructive surgery on TVNZ’s Breakfast on 14th October 2014. Watch the video at http://tvnz.co.nz/breakfast-news/breast-reconstruction-video-5646732.
Information about breast cancer and breast reconstruction can be found on the Australasian Foundation for Plastic Surgery website and on the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation website.
The NEXT magazine article Hope and Healing talks to three women who have had a breast reconstruction following a cancer diagnosis.