British Columbia

Breast reconstruction wait times deterring women from surgery

Only nine per cent of women in Canada opt for breast reconstruction surgery following a lumpectomy or mastectomy , compared to 40 per cent in the U.S.

Province rejects calls for national strategy to speed up process

Wait times may be deterring women from having breast reconstruction surgery after cancer treatment.

Only nine per cent of women in Canada opt for breast reconstruction surgery following a lumpectomy or mastectomy — even though the cost of the procedure is fully covered.

In the U.S., the uptake is 40 per cent.

A woman's choice around surgery could be influenced by a number of factors, including, some professionals and cancer survivors argue, how long it takes to access the surgery. Canada's wait times are so lengthy, it's suggested, they act as a deterrent.

"Currently, the wait time to get into see one of us if you don't have active cancer — if you've already had your mastectomy, or if you're looking for a prophylactic mastectomy, is a year," Dr. Sheina Macadam, a Vancouver-based reconstructive surgeon told CBC News.

"[That's] just to get in to see us," Macadam said. "And it's another year to get surgery."

Those times can be even longer if a woman lives in a rural community, adding stress to an already stressful time.

The Lower Mainland needs at least two more reconstructive surgeons, as well as access to more operating room time," Macadam said.

Earlier this week Macadam spoke at Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) night at VGH, where health care workers and breast cancer survivors gathered. The group called for a national strategy to reduce wait times, including allowing women to move across provinces for surgery when openings appear.

But B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said Wednesday that was not something the province would be considering.

Instead, he said the government was putting more resources into reducing the wait times around B.C. They want to train more doctors in the surgery and recruit more specialist nurses.

Lake said he understands the frustration over wait times, and that government takes the battle against breast cancer seriously.

With files from Richard Zussman and Deborah Goble

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