Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Building bigger breasts after cancer
Breast cancer is in the news a lot these days, most recently with the reports of Elizabeth Edwards' Stage IV metastatic cancer. It sparked some discussion among the women of the CNN Medical News unit here in New York. More and more people we know are learning they have breast cancer, and some of them have had mastectomies, which is surgical removal of the entire breast, with or without some other tissues such as the lymph nodes or the chest muscles.
More than half of women who undergo mastectomies also have breast reconstruction, which means that surgeons rebuild the breast area so that both breasts look balanced. Having breasts that look "normal" again can really improve a woman's self-esteem and promote her sense of recovery after cancer. The procedure, which usually takes place in multiple stages, generally has few complications.
Last year more than 56,000 women in America had breast reconstructions, according to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons. I was surprised (and a little upset) to learn that only in 1998 did federal law start requiring insurance companies to pay for reconstruction as part of standard mastectomy coverage. Before that, I imagine reconstruction was generally considered more a luxury that you had to pay for out of your pocket, as if you were having breast augmentation by choice. Can you believe?!
But now that it is required, some women are actually deciding to increase their cup size during the procedure. "Consider it a fringe benefit for being in such a horrible position as having to lose your breasts," is how breast cancer expert Dr. Marisa Weiss put it. AND, on top of that, because it's possible for some women to take their own stomach tissue and use it to rebuild their breast tissue (that's called a tissue flap reconstruction, an alternative to implants), it's even possible to have a tummy tuck as well.
We don't have stats on how many women get reconstructions for sizes larger than their original chest size, or on how many get the tissue flap procedure. But I'm asking all you women out there - if you had to lose your breasts to cancer, and you had to have them rebuilt, would you take the opportunity to make them bigger as well?
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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