Following breast cancer surgery, it is very common for women to pursue breast reconstruction to help close the circle on their treatment. Removing cancerous tissue from the breast can be a very traumatic procedure, and what is left of the breast following treatment and recovery can leave women desirous of their previous form and completeness. The procedure, which some might initially view as cosmetic, is so commonplace following breast cancer remission that most insurance carriers cover the procedure as part of the continuum of care for breast cancer.
Women who have undergone mastectomy or lumpectomy procedures for their breast cancer treatment and are in remission with their cancer could be good candidates for the procedure. Women who elect mastectomies are the most common candidates for reconstructive surgery as their procedure requires the removal of the entire breast. However, even lumpectomy surgeries can require a reconstructive procedure if enough tissue was removed during the procedure to alter the physical form of the affected breast. Ultimately, the decision whether or not to move forward with a reconstructive procedure is entirely the patients, so the best candidates for these procedures are those who want them.
Types of Reconstruction
Breast reconstruction can be performed in a variety of ways, but the ultimate goal of any reconstructive procedure is to restore the size, shape and symmetry of a patient’s breast before they beat cancer. Saline or silicone implants can be used to rebuild the breast following mastectomy, or autologous tissue from elsewhere in the body can be transferred to reconstruct a breast made up entirely of a patient’s own natural tissue. Or, the two approaches can be combined and autologous tissue can be used to supplement a saline or silicone implant. There are also procedures to repair the nipple and areola, if those areas were particularly affected by cancer removal surgery, or further restore shape and symmetry if a full reconstruction is not required. All of these procedures carry with them their own advantages, disadvantages, risks, and benefits, so it is very important to have an open and honest conversation with your surgeon to ensure you are making the right decision when choosing which procedure to move forward with.
Based on which procedure you elect, recovering from breast reconstruction surgery can take anywhere from one to six weeks. Some women elect to undergo immediate reconstruction, so their mastectomy and reconstruction takes place at the same time, combining the healing process of both procedures into one block of time. Others choose to wait for reconstruction and recovery from each procedure individually. Furthermore, women who elect to undergo reconstruction using autologous tissue from elsewhere in the body will need to recover from both the tissue donation and the reconstruction itself. In any case, it is very important to have a strong support system in place when recovering from surgery, as the days and weeks following surgery are for healing and recovery, not scrambling to cover personal and professional obligations.
Is It Right for Me?
Deciding whether or not breast reconstruction is right for you is a deeply personal decision. Some women choose to wear their scars as a badge of honor, proof that they have survived a challenging ordeal, while others cannot imagine moving forward without the sense of wholeness they felt before their surgery. There is an undeniable link between breasts and motherhood, so many women feel a core sense of their identity is missing without reconstructive procedures. In any case, you are the only person who truly knows whether or not breast reconstruction following cancer surgery is the right decision; your physician will help you understand your options and offer insight, but at the end of the day it is your decision to make.