Natasha Singer, New York Times: December 23, 2008
For many cancer patients undergoing mastectomies, reconstructive breast surgery can seem like a first step to reclaiming their bodies.
But even as promising new operations are gaining traction at academic medical centers, plastic surgeons often fail to tell patients about them. One reason is that not all surgeons have trained to perform the latest procedures. Another reason is money: some complex surgeries are less profitable for doctors and hospitals, so they have less of an incentive to offer them, doctors say.
“It is clear that many reconstruction patients are not being given the full picture of their options,” said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, a nonprofit group in Washington. […]
Implant surgery is the most popular reconstruction method in the United States. Often performed immediately after a mastectomy, it initially involves the least surgery usually a short procedure to insert a temporary balloon-like device called an expander and the shortest recovery time.
But implants come with the likelihood of future operations. Within four years of implant reconstruction, more than one third of reconstruction patients in clinical studies had undergone a second operation, primarily to fix problems like ruptures and infections, and a few for cosmetic reasons, according to studies submitted by implant makers to the Food and Drug Administration. (Reconstructive patients are more likely to develop complications after implant surgery than cosmetic patients with healthy breast tissue.)
“Patients should not necessarily accept the first thing they hear as the end-all, because that is not necessarily the full story,” Dr. Allen said.
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