According to the American Cancer Society, around 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, and approximately 40,000 women will die from this disease.
Despite being the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. (lung cancer is the first), the treatment of breast cancer continues to improve, and the success rate of recovery is increasing. This is due, in part, to advancements in treatment and early detection.
Historically, the main focus of doctors was to spare the life of the patient, regardless of what it required. This resulted in disfiguring procedures that saved women's lives but dashed their hopes of being able to feel whole again.
Today, members of the healthcare community are beginning to recognize that a woman not only wants to survive cancer, but she also wants to feel whole and beautiful, as well.
Dr. Mark Jensen, a plastic surgeon at the Central Utah Women’s Clinic, understands the desire of a woman to retain the appearance of her former feminine self after battling breast cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
As the son and nephew of breast cancer survivors, he is passionate about breast cancer reconstruction and recognizes that appearance is an issue for women.
“Breast cancer is unique in that not only do you have a diagnosis that is life-threatening, but you are also disfigured,” said Dr. Jensen. “A lot of things associated with being a woman are taken from you. As a result of using therapeutic drugs, women lose their hair and eyelashes. So, women look in the mirror and have that constant reminder of what they have lost." Breasts and oftentimes ovaries and the uterus are removed during surgery.
Dr. Jensen believes that meeting with a plastic surgeon as part of the medical team before the surgery is key to a successful restoration. “I like to see those patients right at the time of diagnosis," he stated. "It’s helpful to see where they are starting and what options they are considering. I plan with the general surgeon for either a mastectomy or a lumpectomy,” said Jensen. He offers three suggestions on selecting the best plastic surgeon for the job:
- Board Certified. This should be your first step in selecting a plastic surgeon. Your candidate must be certified with the American Board of Plastic Surgeons. The strict guidelines of this organization ensure you are considering a competent surgeon who adheres to the guidelines of the ABPS.
- Specialize in reconstructive surgery. Dr. Jensen suggests looking for a surgeon who has a high volume of experience in breast cancer reconstructive surgical procedures. “There are a number of procedures that can be done to make things look right," he stated. "And, that technique comes through specialized experience." Jensen said that 70 percent of his practice includes reconstructive surgeries.
- Look for a cosmetic background. Jensen said, “A strong cosmetic plastic surgery background enhances the ability to provide successful reconstructive surgery. You want things to look nice and natural. Experience in the cosmetic field of plastic surgery supports that.” These days, it is common for reconstruction to occur during chemotherapy or radiation treatments. For example, in the case of a mastectomy, Jensen inserts an expander (an inflatable balloon), which stays in the patient throughout chemotherapy. After treatment, he replaces the expander with an implant or some other type of reconstruction, often with extremely positive results.
When facing the frightening battle of breast cancer, a woman's focus should definitely be on survival. But, when the battle has been won, and the increased rate of survival reflects a promising future for many, she will want to have a plastic surgeon on her team who can help her enjoy a future that makes her look and feel like herself again