Thirty years ago, before I became a plastic surgeon, I cared for many sick patients on the wards of Jackson Memorial, Los Angeles County and the Veterans Administration Hospitals. One of the saddest cases, seen unfortunately with disturbing frequency, was that of young women with advanced breast cancer, fearful of losing their breasts, who chose not to address a lump. Could awareness and availability of plastic surgery breast reconstruction have allayed those fears, preventing advanced disease? I believe the answer to be a resounding yes. In these cases, the knowledge that plastic surgery is available helps a patient accept and treat their disease.
Breast cancer treatment and reconstruction has progressed exponentially over the past 30 years. The cancer operations are less invasive and many nipple sparing mastectomies are performed. Previously reconstructing a breast mound to restore a sense of balance to the post mastectomy patient was an acceptable outcome. Today, as plastic surgeons, we are proud of our ability to re-create beautiful breasts. We use modern shaped implants, fat transfer and the patient’s own tissue routinely to accomplish these goals. Frequently the cosmetic result after cancer surgery and reconstruction results in a better shaped breast, then the patient had before her diagnosis of breast cancer. The knowledge that surgical treatment will not cause devastating deformity and may result in a positive change gives breast cancer patients the strength to accept their diagnosis and continue to live their lives. In this way I believe that plastic surgery, for many patients, helps to treat and cure breast cancer.