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FEDERAL | Song Presents on Breast Reconstruction & BCPEA at the Capitol

The Society for Women’s Health Research and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons cohosted a congressional briefing in Washington, DC to highlight the passage of the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act and to call for swift action by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the law. The May 17 briefing, held in the Cannon House Office Building, was well attended by Congressional staff and breast cancer advocacy groups, including Susan G Komen, FORCE, and the Sisters Network.

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ-07), sponsor of the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act, opened the briefing by thanking advocates in the room for their continued efforts, which increased the bill’s momentum in the fall. The congressman stated that this is a victory for both the legislative and executive branch, both of which showed their commitment to raising greater awareness about breast cancer patients' rights. Rep. Lance commented on his mother's passing from breast cancer while he was a young boy, and he remarked that efforts to cure the disease are of paramount importance.

David Song, MD, MBA, FACS, President of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, was among the four panelists to present during the afternoon briefing. Dr. Song highlighted the advocacy efforts of ASPS and the Breast Cancer Patient Education Action Coalition, which was created and led by ASPS. Together, ASPS and the Coalition were able to secure an unprecedented number of cosponsors during the 2015-2016 legislative session, which was instrumental in securing the bill's passage in December 2015.

Dr. Song also spoke about the importance of breast reconstruction for many patients as they recover from the disease. "Today, there are many reconstruction techniques available that restore a breast to near normal shape, appearance and size following mastectomy," stated Song. During his presentation, the ASPS President highlighted various forms of breast reconstruction, including implant based reconstruction and DIEP/SIEA flap reconstruction.

Underscoring the need for BCPEA implementation, Dr. Song reported that many women are unaware of their reconstruction rights, including those of racial and ethnic minorities. "When it comes to invasive breast cancer, women, and especially those of minority backgrounds, should not be left without proper knowledge of their reconstruction rights. We need to ensure that they can learn about their treatment options and make informed decisions." Lack of knowledge about the procedure is particularly concerning for African American women under age 40 and Hispanic women, who are at increased risk for invasive breast cancer. Among the more than 230,000 women diagnosed annually with invasive breast cancer, a recent assessment from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) finds that mastectomies increased 36% between 2005 and 2013 while the number of double mastectomies tripled. Yet, even with higher rates of mastectomy, ASPS puts the overall rate of breast reconstruction among these women at well below 25%.

Dr. Song was joined by Debra L. Monticciolo, MD, Chair of the Commission on Breast Imaging for the American College of Radiology (ACR) and a Professor of Radiology at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, who stressed the importance of early detection through breast imaging so women have greater treatment options and an improved chance for a full recovery. Tracy Posner, a patient advocate, also presented during the briefing. Posner detailed her experience as she opted for a full hysterectomy and a preventative double mastectomy after learning she has the BRCA gene mutation associated with an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.

Since passage of the bill, ASPS has been committed to ensuring the timely implementation of the BCPEA. In addition to the briefing, it wrote to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell and to the HHS Office of Women’s Health to offer assistance as the Office implements the law. HHS, which houses the Office of Women’s Health, is required to consult with appropriate medical societies and patient advocates related to breast cancer, reconstructive surgery, prostheses and forms. In ASPS’s March 2016 letter to HHS, ASPS offered its expertise to the Department as it develops patient education materials. In April, the Office of Women's Health responded on behalf HHS and confirmed that it looks forward to working with ASPS as they implement the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act.