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All Breast Cancer Patients Deserve Safe Surgeries

State Senator Fran Pavley wrote the following op-ed as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and focuses on a new law she authored to ensure that mastectomy and lumpectomy patients receive equal treatment.

One out of eight.

That’s the number of women who will get breast cancer in their lifetimes.

While a diagnosis of cancer is frightening, there is good news for patients undergoing lumpectomies, which now is the most common breast cancer surgery nationwide.

Governor Brown signed a bill I authored, Senate Bill 255, into law. It ensures safe standards for women and men undergoing lumpectomy surgery in California.

California enacted landmark legislation 14 years ago ending so-called “drive-thru mastectomies,” a practice some insurance companies used to send patients home from the hospital right after a mastectomy. Unfortunately the law was murky when it came to lumpectomies - a less common surgery at the time.

Fortunately, medical technologies and best practices have rapidly advanced. While most breast cancer patients now have “breast conservation surgeries,” or lumpectomies, the law remained unclear about appropriate treatment for this surgery.

We heard testimony about one breast cancer patient who underwent a  lumpectomy and was released right after her surgery. She had type II diabetes and was not in good overall health. This woman could have benefited from an overnight stay to ensure her diabetes was in balance and her wound care for the first 24 hours was done in a sterile environment.

Instead she went home, acquired a serious staph infection at the wound site and was hospitalized five days for treatment. Due to the infection, she required an emergency mastectomy and her recovery was triple the normal length of time. The patient’s time off work, follow-up treatment and recovery ended up more costly on the hospital, the medical system and taxpayers.

Senate Bill 255 ensures that the original protections for mastectomy patients will now apply to all breast cancer surgeries, including lumpectomies. It is up to a doctor and the patient to decide the length of the hospital stay and the law ensures insurance coverage for any surgery complications.

Most lumpectomy patients will not need additional care; however, some patients experience the exact same complications as mastectomy patients: excessive bleeding, drainage problems if lymph nodes are removed, anesthesia reactions and staph infections. Patients may also need additional help due to other health issues, age and other factors. This law was sponsored by the California Affiliates of Susan G. Komen for Cure and supported by many organizations.

SB 255 ensures mastectomy and lumpectomy patients will receive equal treatment under the law – a crucial clarification for providers, payers and patients to ensure the best health outcomes.

One out of eight women deserve safe surgery treatment no matter what course of action they choose.


California State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) represents the 23rd Senate District including parts of Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

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