The Importance of Including a Plastic Surgeon on a Cancer Recovery Team
When we think about cancer, we think about surgery, medication, sickness and fear of the unknown. But how often do we think beyond that - to a return to normalcy, on both the inside and the outside?
Most people who have not been through cancer treatment and recovery, don’t often give thought to what happens after treatment: chemo can leave you looking gaunt from excessive weight loss, other medications can cause various skin problems, women undergoing hysterectomy can start seeing the signs of aging before their time and some cancers unfortunately require more serious interventions, like a mastectomy for breast cancer. Fixing only the root cause of the disease can leave patients depressed and at a loss for what can be done to address the superficial damage left by both the cancer and its treatment. They may be grateful for the remission, but the physical aftermath is a different demon entirely.
Having a board-certified plastic surgeon on your cancer team can make a world of difference to anyone battling the big C and can even have a significant impact on a patient’s recovery trajectory.
“It’s not good enough to just treat the cancer, as clinicians we must treat the whole patient and be responsible for the outcome of the treatment,” says Dr. Christopher Khorsandi, a Las Vegas-based plastic surgeon.
Khorsandi feels that the care for a patient going through cancer treatment must involve restoring both form and function. It’s hard to consider a cancer treatment a complete success if it leaves a patient with a disfiguring deformity, says Dr. Khorsandi. “Providing information on the post-illness aesthetic options allows them to understand the steps necessary to beat the cancer and return to normalcy. This psychological boost can give the patient the extra motivation for the sometimes difficult road ahead,” says Dr. Khorsandi.
The psychological importance of “a plan”
When one knows that there is a plan for after the cancer, there is usually the accompanying relief in the patient that they can get better. “I think the biggest fear for all cancer patients is that there is nothing but the cancer. That it’s the end of the road. Hearing about reconstructive and restorative options means that there are others who have gone before them and done well, others who have beat the cancer and are now returning to their everyday lives, before cancer... If we say to the patient, "Let’s worry about that after we treat the cancer," then there is a sort of inference that there may not be a successful outcome,” says Dr. Khorsandi. When we talk about recovery we give the patient the hope that they often need, he explains.
Know your options
“I have worked in settings where it was routine for breast cancer patients to meet with the reconstructive team during the planning process, and I have been in settings where the discussion is minimal at best. I believe all patients should be given access to the reconstructive team early in the process in order to help buoy the patient’s spirit which will help their overall recovery,” says Dr. Khorsandi.
There are many approaches to breast cancer reconstruction. Some of the decisions that need to be made are based on the extent of the patient’s disease, patient's desires, while others are based on the limitation of the tissues. “By making a plastic surgeon part of the cancer team, the patient can have the opportunity to plan for their recovery and know what their choices are in detail,” Dr. Khorsandi says.
Few cancer survivors want to be reminded of the cancer they so bravely fought to conquer when they look in the mirror each and every day. Options should be presented to the patient to enable them to restore their looks to a pre-cancer state if possible. Both aspects of treatment are critical to achieving a full recovery, which should always include a patient’s psychological well-being.