Many women diagnosed with breast cancer will undergo a surgical procedure, called a mastectomy, to remove one or both breasts. After the mastectomy, some women will choose to undergo reconstruction surgery to rebuild the shape and appearance of the breast. Often, breast reconstruction surgery can be performed immediately following the mastectomy. This procedure occurs during the same operating room visit as the mastectomy so that the patient does not need to come back for more surgery.
With a mastectomy, all of the breast tissue and often, some surrounding tissue, are removed. Sometimes both breasts are removed, often as a preventive surgery for women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer. Losing one or both breasts can be both physically and emotionally devastating to the patient. Fortunately, many women are able to undergo reconstructive surgery to give them the pre-surgery appearance they desire.
Women who want reconstruction can choose to have it done while they are still under anesthesia from the mastectomy. Recent studies have concluded that immediate reconstruction does not delay post-operative chemotherapy, increase recovery time or hinder the diagnosis of local cancer reoccurrence. Many women choose to have reconstruction immediately after mastectomy so that the entire process is complete with one surgical experience.
Breast reconstruction helps to restore symmetry to the patient who has lost a breast to a mastectomy. In addition to rebuilding the lost tissue, the remaining breast may undergo a lift, reduction or augmentation to improve the symmetry of both breasts. Your surgeon will be able to make recommendations for a natural and balanced look that will help you feel confident and secure.
During this procedure, the surgeon may use skin and fat from your abdomen and back to reconstruct the breast mound. A saline or silicone gel implant may be used in combination with this technique. The method used will often be determined by your anatomy, desired results and personal preferences. It is important to note that the patient will not have the same sensation in the reconstructed breast as a natural one. It will feel different or unnatural, depending on the implant used. The patient will notice visible incision lines from the mastectomy and reconstruction.
Losing one or more breasts to cancer can be a very emotional experience. Often, a woman's breasts are closely related to her self-esteem and sexual confidence. With immediate reconstruction, the woman does not have to worry with breast prostheses or other devices that give the illusion of breasts. Reconstruction ensures that the woman has the shape and figure that will allow her to wear the clothes she wants and feel confident with her appearance.
Not all cancer centers have qualified surgeons that are able to provide reconstruction in conjunction with a mastectomy. You will need to talk with your cancer specialists about your desire for this procedure to determine what options are available for you. Your physician will be able to go over the risks and benefits of reconstruction immediately following a mastectomy.
Breast cancer treatment can have a big impact on a woman's emotional and physical health. It is important that you get the care and treatment you require to fight this disease and to live as a survivor. Breast reconstruction is one way to help women feel better about their post-cancer body and improve their quality of life.
Laura Mims is a writer for FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, which specializes in oncology, cancer care and cancer treatment in Pinehurst, North Carolina.