After years of lobbying by the Barbados Cancer Society, insurance companies have agreed to pay for reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients at the time of a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
Medical Coordinator of the Breast Screening Programme Dr Shirley Jhagroo made the announcement Thursday at the launch of the annual Walk for the Cure at the Bougainvillea Beach Resort.
Dr Jhagroo welcomed the change of heart from the insurance companies, saying that the cost of reconstructive surgery can be prohibitive. She said that the service was being offered to women in the United Kingdom as part of the country’s National Health Service (NHS) and also in Trinidad “at very minimum cost”.
According to her, reconstructive surgery is critical to the recovery of breast cancer patients, particularly for their emotional well-being.
“When you have to take off the whole breast, it has been our experience that women are actually devastated when they wake up [and] one breast is gone. Breasts for women, it’s part of their sexuality. Their whole self-confidence goes after they’ve had a mastectomy.
“We thought for the women, particularly for the younger women, who are now being diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s so much better for their whole outlook on life, the way forward for them to have reconstructive surgery. They are back to normal, they’ve gotten over the chemotherapy, radiotherapy, they have two breasts, you know they feel so confident about themselves,” she said.
She is also hoping that this service can be made available to women who cannot afford health insurance.
Dr Jhagroo also noted that breast cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst women in Barbados, and is the number one cause of death from cancer amongst Barbadian women.
According to her, in 2012 there were nine cases, 20 in 2013, while 33 were recorded in 2014 and 59 in 2015. The majority of diagnosed cases are between age 50 and 59. There is also a steady increase in cases within the 40-49 age group, with most of those being diagnosed at stages zero to one.
“Even though in Barbados breast cancer incidence rates have been increasing, the good news is the mortality from breast cancer has remained between nine and 11 per cent over the last decade, when compared with all other cancers. This can be attributed to early detection with more treatment options, improved treatment and research,” Dr Jhagroo said.
This year, money raised from the walk will go towards subsidising the cost of mammograms and biopsies necessary for early detection; and maintenance of service contracts for equipment, which is estimated at about $120,000 per year.
The funds will also go towards replacing the 14-year-old outdated medic software for reporting mammograms.
“We have a software for reporting mammograms, we do an average of about 30 per day, and this is 14 years. So you know IT-wise it is extinct. But we’ve been struggling with it.
“This is going to be replaced. We’ve already signed the contract and it’s going to cost US $74,000, and I know it will be worth it because with this we will be able to give 24-hour reports,” Dr Jhagroo said.
Walk for the Cure 2016 is being organized by the Barbados Cancer Society’s Breast Screening Programme in partnership with CIBC FirstCaribbean.
FirstCaribbean’s Krystle Maynard said this year’s goal is to raise US $500,000 across the bank’s territories.