It's important to understand that nearly every woman treated for breast cancer has choices. After a mastectomy (an operation to remove the breast), some women decide to wear a breast form (prosthesis). Others prefer to have breast reconstruction, plastic surgery that rebuilds the shape of a breast. This surgery is not a risk factor for the recurrence of breast cancer, and has no negative effect on the treatment of disease. It can be done at the same time as the mastectomy or several months or even years after. Usually, a plastic surgeon performs the procedure.
Breast reconstruction is major surgery, with the risks, discomforts, and recuperation period of most major surgery. It does not give you back your breast, nor will a reconstructed breast have natural sensation. But it can be a powerfully positive force in the psychological and emotional recovery of a woman who has had a mastectomy.
The plastic surgeons’ goal in breast reconstruction is to help you look and feel as natural as possible, as painlessly as possible. Among other things, this means both breasts should look the same, having the same size and shape.
Procedures to Reconstruct the Breast
Several different procedures can be used to reconstruct the breast. Some use implants, a silicone shell filled with either a saline (salt water) solution or a silicone gel. Others use a “flap” of tissue from another part of the body, such as the abdomen or back, either alone or with an implant. The major procedures are:
No procedure is necessarily “better” than another; the choice depends on each woman's individual circumstances. In some cases, a particular procedure may not be medically appropriate. For example, women who have had a skin-sparing mastectomy need to choose one of the “flap”; procedures; they can’t choose a tissue expander or a breast implant alone.
Obviously, you should consult with your doctors to help you decide which procedure to have, if any, and when. It’s best to do this before the mastectomy, even if reconstruction won't be considered until later.
More information about breast cancer
You can find out more about breast reconstruction by visiting the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or any of the following organizations: