But she also stressed that life and health is the top priority and cannot be compromised. "We follow strict clinical indications in deciding the surgery options."
For instance, an early-stage patient would still receive a mastectomy if she tested positive for breast cancer-causing gene mutations, which indicate a high possibility of relapse.
Moreover, social and economic factors have to be considered before making a treatment decision-for example, whether the patient can afford the extra costs of radiation therapy, usually ranging from 40,000-80,000 yuan ($6,000-$12,000) and whether she can access following-up intervention as needed, Liao added.
Shao Zhimin, director of the breast surgery section of the Shanghai Cancer Center said there are various ways to "retain completeness"-for example, breast reconstruction, which builds the look and shape of the breasts.
"Our team focuses not only on the long-term survival of the patients but their social and psychological demands," Shao said.
To achieve a patient-centered treatment, Liao said, "it must be a multi-disciplinary team (MDT)".
Chun Li, another patient of Liao, was impressed by the MDT approach. "There were four doctors including the breast cancer and cosmetic surgeons during my operation," she said.
The 35-year-old had reconstruction during her mastectomy of the left breast on May 28. "Surgeon Liao told me before the operation if my nipple tested free of cancer cells I could have the reconstruction. I was quite upset then," recalled Chun, who is married with no children.
"My husband comforted me saying my health, rather than complete breasts, is what he cared about the most. He said he would love and stay with me no matter what," she recalled, unable to hold back tears.
"To me, life is as cruel as it is tender. I am the lucky one among the unlucky."
Having the surgery stitches removed, she now dared to see herself naked in the mirror.
"My husband sometimes stood beside me, whispering in my ear 'you are beautiful'," she said.
Jiang Hua, chairman of the cosmetic surgery branch of the Chinese Medical Doctor Association, said reconstructive surgeries had increased by 30 percent annually in recent years and numbered several thousand each year now.
The surgery is important for women to achieve a sense of physical completeness and mental comfort, he said. "Without exception, women shed tears over the loss of their breasts after a mastectomy."
Like Liao, Jiang also called for closer partnerships between breast cancer and cosmetic surgeons to allow more patients to have complete breasts.
Currently, less than 5 percent of patients opt for reconstructive surgery, according to Jiang.
"A comprehensive treatment approach centered on the individual needs to be implemented to better help breast cancer patients heal and return to normal life and society in a good state," she said.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among Chinese women, with its incidence growing by around 4 percent annually, higher than the global average, according to Xu Binghe, a leading breast cancer specialist at the Cancer Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.
Also, the onset of the increasing incidences of breast cancer, compared with other cancers, starts at a younger age, around 30, and peaks at around 55, he said.
In 2015, roughly 304,000 women in China were diagnosed with breast cancer, accounting for 17 percent of all newly diagnosed cancer cases among women, according to the latest statistics from the Chinese National Central Cancer Registry.
In that year, 70,000 people died from breast cancer, accounting for roughly 8 percent of total cancer deaths, it reported.
Fortunately, breast cancer patients have a five-year survival rate of more than 83 percent, far higher than those with other cancers, said Chen Wanqing, director of the registry. Currently, the overall five-year survival rate nationally for all types of cancer is 40 percent.
The overall rate for breast cancer in developed countries is 91 percent, he said.
Chen blamed factors such as low rates of early detection and poor treatment for late-stage sufferers for the gap.
Liao advocates constant international cooperation, particularly with the US, to combat breast cancer and better serve patients.
The 2019 China-US Summit Forum on Breast Cancer will open today in Guangzhou, with hundreds of top breast cancer experts from the two countries.
"Such academic exchanges and cooperation will be of mutual benefits for both sides and represent the start of wider and deeper collaboration in the future to better contain breast cancer," she said.
Xu Binghe agreed and called for strengthened early screening programs and enhanced patient access to all necessary cancer treatments, including radiation, in China to improve treatment outcome.
"That's in line with global best practice," he said.
He said breast cancer was likely to be the first curable cancer type, citing existing scientific evidence.
"Even late-stage breast cancer might, in the future, be treated just like a chronic condition, rather than a terminal disease," he said.
Liao summed up, "Assuring patients that they will receive the best treatment possible and not be affected in later life is also the responsibility of us doctors."（China Daily）