NHS Restricts Breast Reconstruction Surgery For Cancer Patients

The NHS has been restricting access to reconstruction surgery for many patients with breast cancer, according to a new report.

Breast Cancer Now released its Rebuilding My Body: Breast Reconstruction in England findings last week, which uncovered data using Freedom of Information requests.

It found 47 out of 208 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England have policies to limit the number of people eligible for breast reconstruction for non-clinical purposes. An additional nine CCGs also have similar informal policies along the same lines.

In accordance with these guidelines, the NHS can limit the number of surgeries cancer sufferers are allowed, deny ‘balancing surgery’ on the unaffected breast so they can be symmetrical, and impose a deadline for completion.

Chief executive at Breast Cancer Now Baroness Delyth Morgan said:

“It is totally unacceptable that any patient is being denied the reconstructive surgery they need or rushed into potentially life-changing decisions, at such a difficult time.”

She noted that breast reconstruction surgery has “profound benefits”, as it helps give patients their confidence back after cancer. Therefore, Baronness Morgan added this type of surgery “must not be dismissed as a cosmetic or dispensable part of breast cancer treatment”.

More than one-quarter (11,500 out of 42,000) of the women diagnosed with breast cancer every year in England have to face a mastectomy, and as many as 21 per cent of these go on to have breast reconstruction surgery straightaway, while ten per cent have a delayed procedure.

While most breast cancer patients do not have reconstruction, it is invaluable for those who do. However, the best way to avoid this is to use a breast self-examination device to help detect early signs of cancer, so cells can be removed before they spread without the need for a mastectomy.