BEIRUT: Lebanese women without private insurance who are treated at government-contracted hospitals will no longer pay for breast reconstruction surgery following mastectomy operations, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour announced Thursday, as these costs will be covered by the government.
Abu Faour’s announcement comes ahead of international Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which begins Saturday.
“From Oct. 1, the Health Ministry will cover the expenses of breast reconstruction operations after mastectomies for patients benefitting from the ministry’s services. This decision will be circulated to all hospitals and monitoring doctors [so they can] do what is necessary,” he said.
Abu Faour was speaking from the ministry in Bir Hasan, where together with First Lady Lama Salam he launched the ministry’s annual breast cancer awareness campaign.
Breast reconstruction is surgery for women to rebuild the breast after all or part is removed in an operation, called a mastectomy, that is often necessary for breast cancer patients or as a preventative cancer treatment.
The list of standards that government hospitals should follow to improve the process for mammography – an X-ray of the breast – was also launched as the campaign’s second initiative. These standards will then be rolled out to all hospitals.
“I am not looking at this from the financial cost perspective, this is the least of my concerns. What matters is the humanitarian cost that was affecting the woman and their family,” Abu Faour said.
Salam explained that carrying out regular mammograms isn’t a choice, but a duty. “A Lebanese woman shouldn’t neglect her health because the consequences of her disease don’t hit her alone, but rather her whole family.”
The Health Ministry is trying to raise awareness of the importance of early detection for cancer, and the importance this has in overcoming the illness.
The ministry is also highlighting the role men can play in encouraging women to take care of themselves by offering support.
“We noticed that there has been an increase in the percentage of women having a mammogram. It has reached 44.5 percent of women,” Abu Faour said, but added that this wasn’t enough, as there needed to be a belief in the wider community that both women and men needed to pay attention to this matter.
“All the statistics that we have show that one woman out of eight is prone to getting breast cancer, which constitutes 41 percent of total cancers in general.”
He said that while there had been an improvement in the number of women having mammograms that can help detect cancer, this was still not enough.
Women are also advised to conduct self-examinations every month, starting from the age of 20.
They should look for changes in the size or shape of the breast, thickening or swelling of the breast tissue, pain in any area of the breast, or hard lumps developing in the breast area or armpit, which can indicate symptoms of cancer.
Doctors advise all women to have a physician perform a clinical breast examination once every three years between the ages of 20 and 40, and every year after the age of 40, when they should also start going for an annual mammogram.
The Health Ministry’s national awareness campaign runs for three months, giving women the chance to benefit from reduced fees for mammograms until the end of December.
Private hospitals and medical centers across the country will decrease the price to $26, while government hospitals will provide it for free.