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Life After Mastectomy: Is Breast Reconstruction a Viable Option?

breast-reconstruction-after-mastectomyOne in nine Canadian women will develop breast cancer in their life time. For women battling with this illness, undergoing a mastectomy – surgery to remove an entire breast to treat or prevent breast cancer – is imperative for survival. While necessary, undergoing this procedure can affect a woman just as much emotionally as it does physically. The mental turmoil of physically removing something that has been a part of her entire life can be of great detriment to a woman’s self-esteem.

Thankfully, many women who have a mastectomy are given the option of having more surgery to rebuild the shape of the removed breast. Research has even shown that immediate reconstruction post mastectomy is safe and doesn’t negatively impact cancer treatments. Some patients who need additional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation are usually advised to wait for reconstruction – and while reconstruction before cancer treatments are completely safe – some surgeons will recommend waiting for the shape of the breast to change as a result of these treatments before reconstruction. Plus, the psychological boost to the woman’s self-image and confidence is another reason why breast reconstruction can be a viable option.

Reconstruction After Mastectomy

Breast reconstruction after mastectomy can be either immediate or delayed. With immediate reconstruction, the surgeon rebuilds the breast during the same operation as the mastectomy. This is often the case with women who do not require additional radiation, or for those women undergoing preventative mastectomies. With delayed reconstruction, the surgeon rebuilds the breast after the chest has healed from mastectomy surgery. A third option, for those women who require radiation post-mastectomy, is immediate-delayed reconstruction. With this method, a tissue expander is placed under the skin during the mastectomy to preserve space for an implant, which can be put in place after radiation therapy is complete.

While many women may worry about the possible complications of breast reconstruction surgery, immediate reconstruction has a low risk of complication, according to a study from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The study shows that reconstructive surgery had no increased complications in cancer treatment.

Increasingly, women are choosing to undergo breast reconstruction surgery following treatment, and some of these surgeries are given special funding to improve access. In Ontario, special priority funding is provided to women who need surgery as a part of cancer treatment. Moreover, for those with a valid OHIP number, there is no cost for any breast reconstruction, including surgeries such as breast reduction, mastopexy (breast lift), or breast augmentation that may be needed to balance the other breast after a mastectomy.

The Benefits

Breast reconstruction after mastectomy is an option available to most women, and while it’s considered elective surgery, it can have profound impact on a woman’s overall well-being. As mentioned, undergoing breast reconstruction does not interfere with the treatment of breast cancer, but rather works as a complementary procedure. Some women find that it can enhance self-image and confidence after a demanding medical experience that has dramatically changed the shape of their body.

Traditionally, breast reconstruction procedures have left visible scars that fade over time, but, recent advancements in surgical techniques allow for minimal scarring. It’s also important to keep in mind that a reconstructed breast may not be symmetrical to your natural breast, although measures can be taken during surgery—including the use of an implant in the non-reconstructed breast—to help bring both breasts into more even proportion. It’s important to talk with your surgeon to discuss an option that best suits your body and your lifestyle.

A Personal Choice

The decision to undergo breast reconstruction is a personal one. While some women choose this option as a means of reclaiming control over their bodies after breast cancer, other women prefer not to undergo reconstruction. Some find strength in their new appearance as a reminder of the battle they faced and defeated. Each experience is different; the most important thing is to find the right medical information and support for your circumstances.

It’s important to know that not everyone is a qualified candidate for all types of reconstruction. The type of reconstruction you undergo will be decided by both you and your surgeon, and will depend on your personal needs, anatomy, and treatment history. Should you decide to undergo breast reconstruction, be sure to consult all possible options with your surgeon.

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