New breast reconstruction program improves access for women in Southeastern Ontario

A breast cancer diagnosis can be a life-changing experience and now Hotel Dieu Hospital (HDH) and Kingston General Hospital (KGH) are providing a new level of support to patients through a more comprehensive breast reconstruction surgery program that connects patients with a breast reconstruction surgeon sooner than ever before.

In our region between 14 and 20 per cent of the women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will require a mastectomy, which includes the removal of one or both breasts to ensure the cancer does not recur. While effective, this treatment can have a lasting impact on a patient.

“There is good evidence, especially in young women, that if we are able to offer breast reconstruction immediately following a mastectomy, it improves a patient’s general self-confidence and well-being,” says surgical oncologist Dr. Jay Engel. “As we increase the number of reconstruction surgeries offered in Kingston, we will be able to help more women return to their normal life quicker than before.”

With the support of the South East Regional Cancer Program (SERCP) and in partnership with Queen’s University, HDH and KGH have recruited plastic surgeon and reconstruction specialist Dr. Glykeria Martou to help build a regional breast reconstruction program. The hospitals have also established reconstruction clinics where breast cancer patients can find out more about their options and decide on an individualized surgical treatment plan.

There are many reconstruction options but generally patients fall into two pathways: either immediate or delayed surgery. Immediate reconstruction surgery takes place at the same time as the mastectomy so that the patient only has to undergo anesthesia and the subsequent recovery process once. Delayed reconstruction occurs after a mastectomy or lumpectomy and chemotherapy and/or radiation are completed. Reconstruction procedures that can be done on an outpatient basis are performed at HDH, while the more complex procedures requiring a hospital stay take place at KGH.

“We are now able to offer every woman with a breast cancer diagnosis in our community the option of reconstruction as part of our program at Hotel Dieu and KGH,” says Dr. Martou. “This shared program provides more opportunities to assist patients in making an informed decision on what is best for them with respect to both the timing and type of reconstruction.”

In the past patients had to be referred by their oncologist or family physician to see a plastic surgeon; often they were referred to a surgeon in Toronto or Ottawa.  Now, the new program gives patients the opportunity to access the procedure closer to home and to be more involved in choosing an option that works best for them.

“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I felt vulnerable and a little lost,” says patient Liz Adamson. “By fully understanding my options after my mastectomy, I could make the best informed decisions for me and improved my quality of life beyond breast cancer.”

For people who are looking to learn more, the community’s first-ever Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day is slated for October 20 at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Starting at 6 pm, the event features patients who have undergone breast reconstruction surgery as well as physicians who will explain what to expect and what reconstruction can achieve. For more information and to register visit http://www.bra-day.com/event/bra-day-kingston/

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