News & Features

Halting the "Drive-Through Mastectomy"

By U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME)
Senator Olympia J. Snowe

The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2005, pending legislation in Washington, D.C, would ensure women can stay in the hospital at least 48 hours after a mastectomy. Lifetime Television reports some hospitals send mastectomy patients home too soon, while they are still groggy, in pain and, in some cases, with drainage tubes still in place. Besides Senator Snowe, Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) and U.S. Represeatives Sue Kelly (R-NY) and Rosas DeLauro (D-CT) are co-sponsors.

At some point in life, nearly every American will have a family member or friend who must battle breast cancer. Today, a woman in the United States has a one in seven chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime; this year, over 216,000 women will receive a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women, excluding skin cancer and is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women.

Women Deserve Better

Yet current standards of health care coverage are inadequate to deal with this pervasive and life-altering disease. Most importantly, thousands of women each year undergo mastectomies needlessly while some have even undergone breast cancer surgery as an outpatient - the so-called "drive-through mastectomy"- and then are sent home without critical support for their recovery.

There is a solution to this problem. I recently introduced legislation to increase the standards of care for women with breast cancer. It will ensure that all breast cancer patients receive appropriate medical treatment and are given options when making decisions that will affect their health. The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2005 would improve access to second opinions, lumpectomy, radiation therapy, and inpatient care so that women are not forced to undergo medically unnecessary mastectomies or settle for insufficient treatment.

This legislation empowers women and their doctors to make treatment decisions based on what is medically prudent, not simply what will achieve short-term savings. The stress of a cancer diagnosis is debilitating. To compound that stress, leaving a woman with the knowledge that she must undergo a disfiguring procedure due only to her financial position, or to undergo surgery without proper hospitalization, is absolutely unconscionable.

The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2005 addresses these problems through creation of a set of crucial measures to ensure appropriate treatment. The legislation assures that reasonable inpatient care will be provided when a woman undergoes invasive treatment for breast cancer. It further removes the coverage inequities which cause many women to undergo surgery that might not be the most appropriate for them.

This bill achieves three important objectives. First, it assures a patient of a second opinion for any cancer diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis simply must be reliable. Otherwise, women may be forced to worry needlessly about their health and seek unneeded treatments.

At Least 48 Hours

Second, this legislation assures a patient of a reasonable minimum length hospital stay for invasive treatment of breast cancer. A health care provider cannot limit hospital stays for mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery to less than 48 hours. Many of us have heard of women receiving outpatient mastectomies and being sent home without the necessary support.

This legislation establishes a 48 hour minimum stay assurance for mastectomy and lumpectomy. I must point out that this assurance does not require a woman to remain hospitalized that long if she and her doctor concur that she should go home earlier - nor does it prevent a longer hospitalization if her medical condition warrants it. However, this provision will protect women from that small fraction of insurance plans which will not allow such reasonable treatment. This assurance is offered regardless of who regulates the patient's plan because no woman should be forced to undergo such invasive treatment on an outpatient basis.

Finally, this legislation does more than simply ensure a patient of reasonable hospitalization; it assures her of support in making the best choices about her treatment. For example, it provides support for lumpectomy treatment because it requires coverage for radiation therapy for patients undergoing lumpectomy. Together with the assurance of inpatient care, this Act removes the economic incentive for a woman to select mastectomy simply to reduce the immediate cost of treatment.

Preserving Health

This bill will not only provide a higher standard of care, but will achieve long- term savings in women's health -- both mental and physical -- as well as cost savings. Lumpectomy followed by radiation is the preferable treatment for most women with early-stage breast cancer - but many women have undergone mastectomy because of a lack of coverage - yet the costs of breast reconstruction are often not considered. In fact, the finding that breast implants often entail additional surgeries and may pose additional health risks demonstrates one reason why long term costs are greater for mastectomy. Yet thousands continue to be subjected to unnecessary surgeries. This legislation will remedy this problem, and ensure women receive the most appropriate treatment to preserve their health.

As a woman and a member of the United States Senate, I pledge to continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and lead the charge to raise our nation's awareness about breast cancer. Working together and with the support of breast cancer advocates, we should at last achieve for American women the protections they so deserve.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2005 is supported by the American Medical Association; American College of Surgeons; American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons; the Susan G. Komen Foundation; Families USA and many others.) Lifetime Television for Women has a petition asking Congress to pass the bill. You can sign it at:

If you have any more questions about this topic or would like more information Click Here.

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