Every year during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day aims to educate, engage, and empower women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to know their breast reconstruction options, and to be confident in having an informed discussion with their care team about what’s best for them. While breast reconstruction may not be an option for all women, it is critical that all women have universal access to the right information and resources to learn about, and explore, all options available to them to help them restore their confidence, feel empowered and once again, feel home in their own skin.
In recent years, we’ve seen more and more women speak openly and publicly about their choice to undergo mastectomies – which has helped to shed the stigma that had too long been associated with the lifesaving surgery. But, even as mastectomies are more openly discussed, research shows that many women who have undergone mastectomies struggle with depression, anxiety and a sense of loss and isolation – often feeling uncomfortable in their bodies.
For many women who undergo mastectomies, removing the cancer is just a step – albeit a crucial step – of their cancer journeys, but not the end. In fact, 92% of mastectomy patients feel that reconstruction is an important part of their recovery1. Understanding what many women face through this process, we can start to reimagine our approach to breast cancer treatment by recognizing that reconstruction is part of a woman’s whole breast cancer journey and not a separate journey.
Why is this important? Breast reconstruction has been shown to have a strong correlation with increased self-esteem and enhanced emotional and psychological well-being after breast cancer surgery. The process can also bring a sense of normality to women’s lives by helping them regain their body shape and improve body image. Today, however, only a small percentage of mastectomy patients have reconstructive surgery.
One of the largest barriers to breast reconstruction is the lack of education and awareness about the reconstruction procedure. In the UK, for example, research shows that only around 1/3 of women who had a mastectomy had either immediate or delayed reconstruction2. Concerningly, this figure is also disproportionately lower in Black, Asian and minority (BAME) groups – who are up to 71% less likely to undergo breast reconstructive surgery than White women2 – underscoring a significant disparity in access to treatment and care.
A recent report from Breast Cancer Now1 showed that in the UK, not all mastectomy patients have equal access to breast reconstruction services, or even to information about their options. There are, however, examples of best practices, where patients are able to make informed decisions and receive the right treatment for them. These examples should be extended across geographies to ensure that all women receive the same information and access to service, regardless of background, geography, or ethnicity.
On this Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, it is important that all breast cancer patients, regardless of background, are presented with equal access to information so that they are empowered to make an informed decision – for themselves and their bodies – about breast reconstruction.
For more information about breast reconstruction visit Cancer Research UK.
- Breast Cancer Now (2022) Delivering Real Choice: The Future of Breast Reconstruction in England. Available at: https://breastcancernow.org/sites/default/files/breast_cancer_now_report_delivering_real_choice.pdf. Last accessed 11th October 2023.
- Ning Lee, R et al (2021) ‘Barriers and facilitators to breast reconstruction in ethnic minority women—A systematic review’, Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery, 74 (March 2021) Pg 463 – 474. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1748681520305520. Last accessed 11th October 2023.