Because of the increased incidence of breast cancer survivors and women that undergo preventive mastectomies, there is an increased need for breast reconstruction surgeries.
In 2007, 240,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and more than 57,000 breast reconstruction surgeries were performed in 2007 (statistics from American Society of Plastic Surgeons).
For women who have had their breast or breasts removed, breast reconstruction surgery restores the appearance of their breast after mastectomy. A cosmetic surgeon will rebuild the breast to look like it did before removal, including reconstruction of the nipple and areola.
There are many benefits to breast reconstruction surgery, including improved self-image and no need for a prosthesis. In addition, breast reconstruction has the highest satisfaction rating among cosmetic surgery patients of all procedures. In addition, reconstruction rarely hides the return of breast cancer – this is not a significant risk when considering breast reconstruction surgery.
This procedure can be done at the same time as the mastectomy or later. The advantage of doing the procedure at the same time is it means one less anesthesia, one less recovery, and the chest tissue is less likely to be damaged by scarring. You may be advised to wait on a breast reconstruction if you require radiation treatment, as radiation can increase complications and delay wound healing.
Do I Need a Breast Reconstruction?
If you have a lumpectomy, you may not be a candidate for breast reconstruction surgery. However, dependent on the amount of tissue removed, you may end up with asymmetrical breasts, and choose to have a reconstruction anyways.
When determined eligibility for a breast reconstruction, surgeons take several factors into account, including: overall health, stage of breast cancer, amount of tissue available for a flap, your personal desires, insurance coverage, the size of implant, and the overall cancer treatment.
What are My Options?
When considering reconstruction, there are several options available – your doctor will help you sort through them. Commonly, a breast reconstruction is done with an implant, either silicone or saline. Often, a flap of tissue from your own body (from stomach, back, thighs or buttocks) is used to make the breast. Flap reconstruction requires two surgical sites and is not a good option for women who smoke, have diabetes or high blood pressure.
Nipple and areola reconstructions are done after the initial surgery some months after the area has healed. This procedure is usually done as an outpatient procedure. Tissue used to rebuild the nipple is also taken from your own body and can be tattooed to match the color of the other nipple.
What Can I Expect After Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
Pain medication can take care of most of your discomfort, but you will likely feel tired and sore for 10-14 days after your procedure. The initial procedure will take place in a hospital, and an overnight stay is usually recommended. You may be sent home with a drain to remove fluid from the breast as it heals. You should be back to your normal self in 6-8 weeks.