In January, the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation (FBCF) awarded a $14,931 Direct Service Grant to benefit breast cancer patients in Alachua County. The project, “Improving Body and Self-Image Post-Mastectomy,” was designed by a UF Radiation Oncology team led by Assistant Professor Oluwadamilola T. Oladeru, MD, MA, MBA, (right), Clinical Leader, UF Health Breast Center.
The importance of the body image of women with breast cancer following a mastectomy has been extensively studied. Prior qualitative research studies revealed that women associate their breasts with beauty, motherhood, and femininity. Thus, their absence invokes negative sentiments and psychological impact on their appearance, self-image, and desire for social interaction.
While cancer survival is prioritized over cosmetic procedures or interventions, the increasing number of breast cancer survivors today has informed clinicians’ awareness of the importance of self-image and quality of life. The scale of emotional reaction following a mastectomy is closely intertwined with psychological problems noted in survivors. Given that the clinical indication for mastectomy cannot be challenged, supporting women in the post-surgical phase and beyond as they cope with their body image, their new state of appearance, and their emotions, is equally important in the healing process.
Unfortunately, the cost of breast prostheses and mastectomy bras can be prohibitive for women, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status or without insurance coverage for surgical chest wall reconstruction. It can further exacerbate the disparities in quality of life outcomes disproportionately faced by this subset of women. In addition to body image, most women undergoing mastectomy require adjuvant radiation, which has been linked with an increased risk of lymphedema: Upper extremity swelling can occur within weeks or years following mastectomy and adjuvant radiation. Thus, preventive efforts are a critical aspect of the survivorship plan for women.
Alternative treatment strategies besides physical therapy and surveillance include using compression sleeves during high-risk activities involving upper extremity movement. In addition, providing compression sleeves for women who have undergone mastectomy and require post-mastectomy radiation will further decrease the likelihood of psychosocial trauma for these women.
“At our institution, we perform a high volume of mastectomies annually, an average of 100 cases alone in 2021,” said Dr. Oladeru. “In conjunction with our lymphatic microsurgical preventing healing approach (LYMPHA), FBCF’s generous grant will provide Class I & II lymphedema sleeves, breast prosthesis, mastectomy bras, and gauntlets, strengthening our ability to restore our patient population’s sense of normalcy, improve their healing process post-mastectomy, and positively influence their self-image during survivorship.”
For more information about FBCF Direct Service Grants, visit the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation website.