If you need surgical removal of a breast tumor, you may be considering breast reconstruction as part of your cancer recovery journey. Many women are apprehensive about the idea of breast reconstruction and don’t know what to expect or what options they have.
Breast reconstruction is a highly individualized procedure. No female body is the same, and the situation surrounding your cancer and medical treatment will also be unique to you. However, cancer patients often ask many of the same questions about reconstruction.
Learn more about whether breast reconstruction is a good fit for your life by considering the following frequently asked questions.
Do I Have to Get Breast Reconstruction?
Some women may feel like getting reconstructive surgery is simply part of the process of treating and recovering from breast cancer. However, you do not have to get reconstructive surgery. The purpose of surgery to restore breast shape and form is for the comfort, security, and convenience of the patient.
You could choose to use an external prosthesis instead of getting more surgery. You could also embrace your new breast shape or find bras designed to equalize or fill in missing breast tissue. Some women do not want more surgery and prefer adapting in other ways to the loss of natural breast tissue.
Will My Breasts Look Natural After Surgery?
Another common concern is whether or not the reconstruction will be effective. Even though breast cancer reconstruction has seen many advances, including gentler mastectomy or lumpectomy procedures, scarring from surgery is inevitable.
Also, depending on the type of reconstruction you get, your breasts will not look identical to how they did before you had cancer. They may also feel different than you are used to. However, your surgeon will do everything possible to make your breasts appear as natural as possible, including:
- Recreating the nipple and areola using tattoos, donor skin, or even skin from other areas of your body.
- Using fat deposits from other areas of your body to try and make the breast shape as natural as possible.
- Sparing skin from a mastectomy so you have natural looking coverage over an implant.
Scars do fade over time, and you can get used to a new breast shape or a new breast size. They may look and feel different to you, but they will not seem alien or noticeably different to others.
Do I Have to Decide What I Want Right Away?
You might not know how you feel about breast reconstruction. Some women may choose to have a mastectomy and reconstruction as a single, long procedure. However, if you’re not sure if reconstruction is what you want or need, you don’t have to decide right away.
In fact, some women can’t have surgery right away. For example, if you smoke, you may need to quit smoking for a couple of months before you’re cleared to have breast reconstruction surgery. In other cases, treatment itself can delay surgery.
If you are not sure which avenues will be open to you, your doctor might recommend using an expander to keep the skin intact after you have surgery to remove breast tissue and tumors. This way, you can choose what type of surgery will be best for you (or if you even want it) later.
Will Breast Reconstruction Hide Recurring Tumors?
This is a rational fear. Many women first discover breast cancer from a self-exam; they notice a deformity or a lump that was not present before. If you have implants, tissues, and donor skin forming your new breast, will you notice if the cancer returns?
However, after you have breast cancer, you will see a doctor regularly for screenings. If you had surgery to remove most of your breast tissue, a tumor in the same place is very uncommon. Generally, reconstruction does not hold a high risk for hiding cancer should it recur.
Do I Have to Wait Until After Cancer Treatment?
The answer to this question is sometimes. For example, a woman who needs radiation as part of her treatment for breast cancer may not be able to have reconstructive surgery until all radiation treatments are complete. Sometimes, this might mean waiting for a year before you can start reconstruction.
Radiation can affect the appearance of the reconstructive materials. Since this surgery, while necessary for many women, is intended to be cosmetic in nature, it’s best if you wait for radiation treatments to end. That way, you don’t want to go through an extensive procedure only to have the results destroyed or skewed by treatment.
Your oncologist may also recommend waiting until you have finished chemotherapy, depending on the kind of drugs you need. Some drugs can delay or slow healing of delicate breast tissue or make it harder for you to use donated skin.
For more information, contact us at The Surgical Clinic.