For women who have breast cancer, reconstructive surgery can replace what was removed and improve their self esteem — but here in Alberta, the wait times to have that potentially life changing surgery are long.

Alberta Health Services has just unveiled a new breast reconstruction program but admits it hasn’t worked out a plan yet to make the system better for patients.

Dr. James Wolfli

Edmonton plastic surgeon Dr. James Wolfli says patients wait as long as a year for a consultation and then another three years for breast reconstruction surgery. (CBC)

Many Edmonton doctors are critical of the wait times, including plastic surgeon James Wolfli. He says his patients can wait up to a year to meet with him, and then another three years to undergo the breast reconstruction process.

“It’s outrageous,” Wolfli told CBC News. “I mean the psychological effect that it has on so many women is enormous. And we see that all the time when they call our office and they’re just beaten and tired.

“Some are crying and some are yelling, but I mean at the end of the day we understand why they’re upset — because it shouldn’t be that long of a wait.”

Last year, Angelina Jolie caught the world’s attention when she opted for a preventative double mastectomy and then had breast reconstruction surgery just nine weeks later.

After Jolie’s actions, Wolfli says there was an increased interest in breast reconstruction surgery.

“The number of patients who came in a couple weeks after Angelina Jolie, who directly mentioned her name, was noticeable.”

But many are still waiting.

Lucia Lorio had a lumpectomy, a procedure that involves removing a tumour and surrounding tissues. She’s been waiting since last January to be put on a waiting list, just to see a plastic surgeon. She says it’s a painful process.

“I’ve been living in limbo, with a scarred body and low self esteem,” Lorio said.

The complicated and expensive procedure can last 12 hours while recovery and follow-ups can take years.

“There’s a battle between what the demands are of society now and what our tax base can provide, in regards to operating time in a hospital for all specialties, including reconstructive surgery,” said Wolfli.