Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act

Breast Cancer Patient Protection ActDon’t Force Mastectomy Patients to have Drive-Through Surgeries

Q: I received the following e-mail and would like to know if it’s for real:

Proposed Mastectomy Law Change
(written by a surgeon);
I'll never forget the look in my patients eyes when I had to tell them they had to go home with the drains, new exercises and no breast. I remember begging the doctors to keep these women in the hospital longer, only to hear that they would, but their hands were tied by the insurance companies.

So there I sat with my patient giving them the instructions they needed to take care of themselves, knowing full well they didn't grasp half of what I was saying, because the glazed, hopeless, frightened look spoke louder than the quiet “Thank you” they muttered.

A mastectomy is when a woman's breast is removed in order to remove cancerous breast cells/tissue. If you know anyone who has had a mastectomy, you may know that there is a lot of discomfort and pain afterwards. Insurance companies are trying to make mastectomies an outpatient procedure. Let's give women the chance to recover properly in the hospital for 2 days after surgery.

There's a bill called the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act which will require insurance companies to cover a minimum 48-hour hospital stay for patients undergoing a mastectomy. It's about eliminating the “drive-through mastectomy” where women are forced to go home just a few hours after surgery, against the wishes of their doctor, still groggy from anesthesia and sometimes with drainage tubes still attached.

A: I doubt this was written by a surgeon, but the intention is good. The mistreatment of women undergoing mastectomy is real, and the legislation is real. The real shame is that it takes an act of congress to get a woman with breast cancer proper treatment.

In truth, women who have competent caregivers at home are probably better off going home from the hospital as soon as possible. The longer a patient stays in the hospital, the greater the risk of an antibiotic-resistant infection, a mis-prescribed drug, sleep deprivation and malnutrition. That being said, there are many women who cannot get proper care at home, and they should be allowed to stay in the hospital for a few days to recover. Mastectomy is an extremely painful, physically debilitating and emotionally devastating surgery, and women who endure it need and deserve proper medical care.

The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act bill has been kicked around various committees in congress for twelve years and undergone numerous name changes. It’s back in committee again, in the form of two separate bills and it’s long past time for a grass roots groundswell of support. The e-mail above is followed by an invitation to go to the Lifetime TV website and fill out a form petition, but instead I would urge you to send an e-mail directly to your elected officials expressing how strongly you care that this bill gets out of committee and is passed. I would also suggest referring to it as the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act rather than by number, in case the bill’s number changes again. Here’s where you can go to find the websites of your Senators and Representatives. You can send an e-mail directly from their websites.

I like to end my letters to my elected officials as follows:
I Care. I’m Watching. I Vote.