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What You Need to Know About Undergoing Breast Reconstruction Surgery After a Mastectomy

breast reconstruction surgery

Some of the worst words a woman can hear are, “I’m sorry, but the tests came back, and they show that you have breast cancer.” 

Typically, when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, their doctor refers them to a general or oncologic surgeon to undergo a mastectomy. A mastectomy is a major surgery that removes a woman’s breast(s) and tissues where the cancer is out of control.

This procedure seeks to remove all the cancerous cells in the breasts. Once removed, the option of breast reconstruction surgery is suggested in order to reconstruct the shape of the woman’s breasts permanently.

Let’s discuss everything you need to know about breast reconstruction surgery.

What Is Breast Reconstruction Surgery?

Breast reconstruction surgery is performed by a plastic surgeon either at the time of your mastectomy or after you have healed from a mastectomy. 

The surgeon helps to recreate your breasts using parts of your body tissue or through artificial means.

Reconstruction: Knowing What to Expect

Female bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and since everyone is different, there are several determining factors of when you should have your breast reconstruction surgery.

Several of these factors are:

  • Risk factors with the surgery regarding weight and smoking habits
  • Physical body exam
  • Types and number of treatments needed after surgery 

Discuss with your doctor what options are best for you. Make sure you aren’t shy to ask all your questions!

Deciding If Reconstruction Surgery Is for You

Every woman must make the choice herself. Some women may opt not to have reconstruction surgery, but you will have to determine if you are willing to live the rest of your life without your breasts.

Here are some reasons some women choose to have breast reconstruction surgery:

  • Recover self-esteem
  • Wanting a balanced chest when wearing her bra and bathing suit 
  • Allow clothes to have a better fit
  • To once more feel whole with reconstructed breast shape
  • To have reconstructed areolas and nipples

What Are Your Options?

Women have several options when it comes to choosing how to implement their reconstructive breast surgery. Sometimes more than one operation is needed. 

Breast reconstruction surgery is a major surgery, so be prepared to take your time and rest as much as possible. 

You don’t want to make uninformed decisions, so make sure you are open and honest with your doctor regarding any questions and concerns you may have.

Here is a list of several options for you and your doctor to discuss:

Flap Procedure 

Flap Procedure, in reconstruction, is when the surgeon reconstructs your breasts with tissue from your body. Another name for this procedure is Autologous Tissue Reconstruction.

The places the surgeon takes tissue from for your breast reconstruction include:

  • Stomach
  • Thighs
  • Buttocks
  • Back

Let’s look at some positives and negatives of the Tissue Flap Procedure.

Pros:

  • Breasts look more natural with this procedure used
  • Breasts grow or shrink with weight gain/loss
  • Never have to worry about replacing them

Cons:

  • Longer recovery time
  • More surgery required
  • Scar tissues from reconstruction area as well as from where the tissue was taken from
  • Possible damage or weakness to muscles
  • Possible hernias in the abdomen
  • Due to blood vessel issues, this procedure is not recommended for women who have diabetes, vascular disease, smoke, or have connective tissue disorders (i.e., EDS).

Implants

Besides flap procedures, another option is to have a surgeon place a silicone shell filled with a substance to reconstruct the breast’s shape. The filling options for these silicone pieces are:

  • Gel—different variations of thickness and gel options such as “cohesive gel” and form stable gel.
  • Saline—saltwater that has been sterilized

Implants can be placed at the same time as a mastectomy or can be delayed until after healing. Let’s discuss some of the pros and cons.

Positives:

  • Don’t require as much surgery as flap tissue reconstruction
  • Boosts self-esteem with shape and size

Negatives:

  • Needs to be replaced if they rupture or develop leaks
  • Leaks or ruptures can lead to breast cancer, reproductive issues, and connective tissue disorders
  • Possibility of rare cancer (Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma) associated with textured implants

Areola and Nipple Reconstruction

Most of the time during a mastectomy, the nipples must also be removed. When you decide to have reconstruction done, there are several options for restoring your areolas and nipples.

This surgery is considered less major and can be an outpatient surgery (not admitted to the hospital). This will usually take place about 4 months after breast reconstruction. Here are several restoration options:

  • Reconstruction using tissue from the new breast
  • 3-dimensional tattoo of nipple and areola
  • Prosthetic nipple procedure—where silicone is designed to match the size, texture, and shape of the nipple and can be removed from the breast when you choose.

Whichever way you choose to go, remember that only you can make the decision for what you feel is best for your body and mental health.

Breast Cancer Survivor: Living and Coping

It is imperative to your continual health that you have frequent medical follow-ups. Here is a list of follow-up practices you should continue with:

  • Doctor Visits: every few months until completely cancer-free; usually at the 5-year mark, you need to be seen once every year
  • Pelvic Exams: discuss with your doctor
  • Mammograms: 6-12 months after surgery and then annually
  • Tests for bone density: discuss with your doctor
  • X-Rays and Bone Scans: only if your doctor requests these

Remember that you are a warrior. You have fought something that no human being should have to go through—and you survived. You are tougher than you look or feel and are strong enough to take on the next phase of healing—breast reconstruction surgery!

Final Thoughts

It is always a good idea to get a second opinion from another medical professional when it comes to your reconstruction surgery. You want to make informed decisions before jumping into any type of major surgery.

Another thing to discuss with your doctor is joining a survivor support group. Social media has support groups you can join to get advice, encouragement, and hope from other survivors like yourself. This can really be a life-saving aspect for your mental and emotional health.

Breast reconstruction surgery is a way for a woman to help reconstruct her self-esteem and her normal, daily life. Reconstruction can help her feel she is physically putting the pieces of her life back together after her devastating loss and fight against cancer. 

Contact us today for more information and to book your consultation.

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