October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we’d like to discuss something that’s on the minds of many women who have undergone breast surgeries or mastectomies as a result of breast cancer: breast reconstruction. For all of the brave women who are or who have battled breast cancer, restoring this intricate and symbolic part of the body offers new beginnings and new confidence.
Many women choose the path of reconstruction after undergoing breast surgery or mastectomies to remove breast cancer. Surgery by a skilled plastic surgeon can rebuild removed breast tissue, and most women who have had a mastectomy are suitable candidates for this type of physical reconstruction.
If you’re exploring options for post-surgical reconstruction, you may have some questions before moving forward. Concerns such as the expected outcome, the surgery’s effect on the success of future cancer screenings, your surgical options, and the post-surgical recovery period are very common.
How does reconstruction affect future cancer screenings?
Studies show that reconstruction does not affect future screenings or increase the chance of cancer recurrence. Radiation and chemotherapy are also not affected by reconstructive efforts. Implants used in breast reconstruction are not known to hide the signs of breast cancer recurrence, so this should not be a factor when considering reconstruction.
If your reconstruction involves an implant, it is a good idea to have your future mammograms performed at a facility that is trained in the best way to get an accurate picture around an implant.
Types of reconstruction
Breast reconstruction restores the breast to a normal or near-normal physical appearance post-mastectomy. But the expected outcome does depend on the severity of the original surgery. Although breast reconstruction can improve physical appearance, it does have its limitations. A reconstructed breast will not restore full sensation, nor will it feel the same as original breast tissue. Incisions will leave some visible scarring. If you choose to transfer fat from another area of your body (usually the back, buttocks, or abdomen), then there may also be some minimal scarring in that area as well.
When choosing reconstructive breast surgery, there are two basic options to choose from: implants or autologous reconstruction. Factors to consider when choosing which type of reconstruction include how quickly you want the procedure completed, and how natural you want your reconstructed breasts to look and feel. Implants are less natural to the touch, but an autologous reconstruction is a lengthier process involving the additional trial of removing tissue from a donor site.
An autologous reconstruction is performed by taking tissue from another area of the body and transferring it to the breasts.
Most often a reconstruction involves two surgical procedures: one to reconstruct the tissue, and another to reconstruct the areola and nipple. Rarely are these two procedure done together, as there may be some shifting of the reconstructed tissue after original placement.
Using breast implants for reconstruction involves the implantation of a device filled with silicone or saltwater. The reconstruction process can start at the time of your mastectomy or after the procedure. Reconstruction using implants can be done by placing the device into the breast at the time of mastectomy and then filling it over a period of time after your surgery is complete. You can also opt to delay the procedure and insert the implants after the initial mastectomy is completed.
It is important to note that if you have had or will have additional radiation therapy; reconstruction using implants is not recommended as it increases the risk of capsular contracture (a tightening of collagen fibers surrounding the implant). Just be sure to discuss all of these details with your physician before moving forward.
Keep in mind that while reconstruction isn’t a magic wand, it can go a long way towards making you look and feel much like your old self. If you decide to follow reconstructive surgery, the procedure can help restore your self-confidence and self-image. Many women have found reconstruction after breast cancer to be a very beneficial aesthetic improvement. The choice of reconstruction after a mastectomy or lumpectomy is ultimately up to you. Breast reconstruction can go a long way towards restoring your appearance and helping you reclaim a full, healthy, and happy life after cancer.