Summary: Once relegated to the fringes of oncological care, breast reconstruction has recently become a mainstream procedure, much to the happiness and quality of life increases experienced by those who have undergone the surgery. It’s no surprise, then, that new research is suggesting that centralized breast care offers the best results not only for breast care in general but also for the breast reconstruction process in its entirety. After all, breast reconstruction is an incredibly complex set of procedures. Anything that plastic surgeons and oncological surgeons can do to make the process easier is a win not only for the system, but for all of the women in that system as well.
Simplifying the Process
With any diagnosis of a serious medical condition—no matter the condition—there’s one thing you can count on: many appointments with many specialists. The specialization of medicine at the expense of general practitioners is probably a debate best suited for a different venue, but here’s how it applies to us: with a breast cancer diagnosis, the patient can count on having to keep track of appointments with many doctors, from oncologists to oncological surgeons to plastic surgeons and radiologists and so on and so forth. The list of appointments can become exhausting and sometimes—especially when it comes to breast reconstruction, which at many points can oscillate between necessity and luxury—the results suffer for it.
This observation is backed up by research published in the November 2014 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. According to researcher Dr. Albert H. Chao and his colleagues who published the report, the opening of a centralized breast center at a hospital can lead to more timely breast reconstruction procedures and, ultimately, higher satisfaction with those procedures. A centralized breast center makes it easy for a patient to receive time and attention for all aspects of care.
Integrating Reconstruction for Better Care
This is especially important for breast reconstruction because it the more integrated the reconstruction process is into the rest of care, the better the results tend to be. When a plastic surgeon works with the oncological surgeon, for example, the mastectomy can be optimized to ensure more efficient and effective reconstruction further down the line. Indeed, sometimes during mastectomy, a saline expander is placed inside the breast to help grow a pocket in which the reconstructive implant can be placed later. By performing both procedures during one surgery, the patient only needs to endure one recovery period, virtually cutting in half the required care on the back end of the operation.
And to be frank, sometimes the reconstruction process can seem daunting. Yes, it has a very high satisfaction and success rate—but that satisfaction rate does not include women who have been so discouraged as to postpone or decline the operation in the first place. That some women choose to embrace their post-cancer body is, of course, a deeply personal choice, as is the decision to reclaim what was lost during the fight against cancer. But women who decline reconstruction because the process seems complex deserve a better answer.
Complex Process Should Be Easier
Even glancing at the website of plastic surgeons who perform breast reconstruction in New Jersey will tell you that complex the process is, full of decisions to make and surgeries to endure. In a typical breast reconstruction process, there are no fewer than three surgeries: implanting the expander, exchanging the expander for the implant (which may also include grafting donor material from other areas of the body), and reconstructing the nipple after the reconstructed breast has healed. By combining those procedures with other procedures which must also be performed for the treatment of cancer or other health issues, plastic surgeons are removing roadblocks from the pathway to reconstruction, making the entire process easier.
And making the process easier is the primary benefit of combining services into one breast center. All of the experts are on hand and all care can be coordinated to best serve the patient and the patient’s recovery. According to the research published by Dr. Chao and his colleagues, the time between consultation and surgery was lowered from just over ten days to roughly 3.5 days. The more time that’s shaved off of waiting for procedures to happen is more time added to recovery and recuperation and, thus, healthy living.
Happy Patients are the Best Results
Of the centralized breast center studied, it was clear that patients were happy with the results as well. The referral rate rose from 27 to 46%, which is a massive increase. It’s clear, then, that when the patient is happy and the doctors are more efficient, it would lead to greater satisfaction with the results.
This research emphasizes a trend in breast reconstruction care to give women more options and more choice, but also more support and more guidance. The oncological community has also come to recognize breast reconstruction as an important part of recovery from breast cancer, which has led to increased cooperation between oncological surgeons and plastic surgeons. Because at the end of the day, the woman is who recovers and reclaims her life is at the center of both universes—and it’s why everyone is in this business.