A mastectomy occurs when all or part of the tissue in your breast is removed. The most common reason for this procedure is cancer within the breast tissue, though doctors may recommend a mastectomy for women who are at extremely high risk of getting breast cancer.
Thanks to the options for breast reconstruction after mastectomy, you don’t have to live with the cosmetic evidence of such a procedure. Learn more about these options, what the risks are and how to help ensure a positive outcome if you decide on breast reconstruction following a mastectomy.
What is Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy?
At the most basic, the procedure is exactly what it sounds like: the reconstruction of breast tissue — including the shape and size of your breast — after the original tissue has been removed.
Typically, reconstruction involves a plastic surgeon inserting an artificial implant under the skin to take the place of the tissue that you lost during the mastectomy. In some cases, the surgeon may be able to take a piece of tissue from another area of your body and place it in your breast — this is known as autologous reconstruction. Sometimes, both an artificial implant and organic tissue from another location on your body is used to best re-create a natural look for your breast.
Options for the Procedure
When and how breast reconstruction after mastectomy is performed depends on a variety of factors, including your own overall health, your age, the recommendations of your care team (including your oncologist and plastic surgeon) and the potential outcome of your cancer diagnosis.
- Immediate reconstruction occurs when the plastic surgeon works alongside the surgical team that removes the potentially cancerous tissue. The benefit of an immediate construction is not having to undergo two invasive procedures at separate times. Not everyone is a good candidate for immediate reconstruction. If you’ll be undergoing additional treatments for cancer, for example, your doctors may want you to wait. If you’re undergoing a mastectomy simply because you’re at high risk of cancer, then immediate reconstruction is almost always an option.
- Delayed reconstruction occurs as a secondary procedure weeks or months after the initial mastectomy. This is usually the option recommended for women who may need to undergo radiation or other treatment to fully treat cancer. Reconstructed breasts may interfere with the effectiveness of other treatments, though your doctors will always consider these options according to your specific situation.
In addition to deciding when to receive a breast reconstruction following a mastectomy, you should work with your plastic surgeon to determine the type of reconstruction you want. Qualified plastic surgeons can provide specifics about a range of options, and you may be able to decide:
- The type of implant you want
- Which type of procedure is right for you (ask about potential scarring, for example)
- How you want the end product to be sized or shaped (typically, when only one breast is impacted by cancer, surgeons will work to match the reconstruction to the other breast)
Risks Associated with Breast Reconstruction
When you’re considering a breast reconstruction following treatment for cancer, there is some risk that you may need another cancer treatment in the future. While implants shouldn’t provide too much of a hindrance in these cases, it’s important to talk to your oncologist and plastic surgeon about risks before making a decision, and always disclose the fact that you have implants to future providers.
Breast reconstruction is a surgery, and like all other surgeries, comes with both minor and major risks. Major issues can be addressed with careful planning and adherence to follow-up instructions or have only a very small likelihood of occurring. To make a fully educated decision, talk to your doctor about the risks associated with:
- The use of anesthesia
- Blood clots
- Infection at the incision site
How to Encourage a Positive Outcome
While you will experience some pain and discomfort during recovery after breast reconstruction surgery, your surgeon will provide instructions for minimizing such issues. Following those instructions, keeping your incision sites clean and taking any medication provided for pain all go a long way toward ensuring a positive outcome for your breast reconstruction surgery.
Working with the right plastic surgeon also helps ensure you’re happy with your breast reconstruction.