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What to Know About Breast Reconstructive Surgery After Breast Cancer

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have to make a lot of decisions about your treatment. And, if you’re preparing for a lumpectomy or mastectomy, there’s one more decision to make: if you want reconstructive surgery. You might think this is a decision you would make after your surgery and treatment are finished—and it can be. But, there are benefits to having reconstructive surgery as early as possible—perhaps even during the lumpectomy or mastectomy.

Why Have Reconstructive Surgery?

It’s absolutely a personal choice whether to have reconstructive surgery after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. You may feel you want to wait a bit and handle one major change at a time, saving the reconstructive surgery for later. You may decide you are satisfied with your body post-surgery as it is. Ultimately, the decision about reconstructive surgery should be based on what feels right for you.

It may help to know that studies show women who have reconstructive surgery immediately after breast cancer surgery feel happier and more whole sooner. They also do better psychologically than those who wait. And, by combining the reconstructive surgery with the lumpectomy or mastectomy, you reduce the number of procedures you’ll undergo.

Ultimately, the decision about reconstructive surgery should be based on what feels right for you.

Two Types of Reconstructive Breast Surgery to Consider:

  1. Your own tissue can be inserted into the breast. This tissue can come from your back, thighs, abdomen or other areas. Fat grafting is an option that transfers fat from other parts of your body to your breasts.
  2. Your surgeon can insert a tissue expander in the breast, under skin or muscle in the chest, which is filled like a balloon and remains in place for six to eight weeks to keep the area wide enough for an implant to be inserted. The tissue expander may be used if your doctor recommends treatment prior to reconstruction. Or, at the time of surgery, your doctor may immediately insert a saline- or silicone-filled implant. A saline implant is filled with sterile water and has been used for breast implants for years. Silicone gel implants may feel more like natural breasts. Both come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

It’s important to understand that even as breast reconstructive surgery recreates the shape of the breast, it doesn’t restore feeling to the breast or nipple. Some sensation may return to the breast skin, but it won’t have the sensitivity it previously had.

Benefits of Planning Reconstructive Surgery with Oncology Team

Having your plastic surgeon be part of your medical team early on helps increase your options. Your medical team will review your type and stage of cancer, what type of surgery is needed and if additional treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy, is recommended. It’s helpful at this point to also consider if and when reconstructive surgery would take place. Even if you need additional treatment post-surgery, you still may be able to plan reconstruction right away.

What to Expect the Day of SurgeryDoctor performing surgery

On the day of surgery, you will check into the hospital a few hours before the procedure. This gives you time to meet with the anesthesiologist, the breast surgeon and the plastic surgeon, review the procedure and have a chance to ask any remaining questions. The breast surgeon will prepare you by making markings at the surgery sites, and soon after, the surgery and reconstruction will begin. Although this may be the major reconstructive surgery, you may need additional surgeries to create the ultimate appearance of the breast.

Even though the decisions about your breast cancer surgery, treatment and reconstructive surgery may seem overwhelming, it’s important to know your options. Talk with your medical team, including a plastic surgeon, to learn what your choices are and how the timing of reconstructive surgery can benefit your long-term outlook.

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