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Is Breast Reconstruction the Right Choice for You?

If you have had a mastectomy as part of your breast cancer treatment, or if you are planning to have a mastectomy in the future, something you will be asked to consider is whether or not you would like to have breast reconstruction surgery. This is an important decision and depending on where you are in the treatment process, you may not be ready to make this decision. Some women are less concerned with the physical result of a mastectomy and do not desire to have reconstruction. But many women, especially younger women, do wish to have some type of reconstruction procedure after mastectomy.

The basis for this decision can be very complex with multiple factors to consider. For some, it is a matter of self esteem and their desire to restore their physical appearance as close as possible to what it used to be. For others, they want to be able to wear clothes that make them appear feminine again. Some women just want to feel as normal as possible to put the experience in their past.

Some women even choose not to have any kind of reconstruction, but wear a prosthetic bra instead. Some choose not to even wear prosthetic bras. They may not feel that their femininity or their attractiveness is related to their breasts. No matter what you choose, it is entirely your decision and does not have to be made immediately.

No Right or Wrong Answer

Deciding to have reconstructive breast surgery after mastectomy is a personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer—simply your answer. There are many different reconstructive procedures that can be done and for certain ones, it is best to have an idea that reconstruction is desired before your breast cancer surgery.1 All types of reconstructive surgery will leave a scar and when nude, it is typically obvious if a woman has had reconstruction. If you are interested in exploring the options available to you for reconstruction, there are a few questions you can ask your doctor to help determine what is best for you.

  • Are you a candidate for breast reconstruction surgery?
  • What options are available to me for reconstruction?
  • What are the risks involved with each type of surgery?
  • Will more than one surgery be required to reconstruct my breast?
  • Am I a candidate for immediate breast reconstruction?
  • How many of this type of procedure has the surgeon done?
  • Ask your doctor if there are any before and after images of prior reconstructive surgeries that he or she has performed that you could see.

What to Expect After Reconstructive Surgery

It is normal to have pain after reconstructive surgery. The pain should be manageable with medications prescribed by your doctor. You can expect to stay in the hospital from one day to about a week, depending on the procedure you have and your overall health.2

A mastectomy requires a drain to be placed in the armpit area. Depending on the type of reconstructive surgery, a drain may also be placed in the abdominal area. You activity level will be decreased until the drains are removed.3

Recovery time after a mastectomy and after breast reconstruction is different for every patient. You should expect to devote about six weeks to recover completely and get back to normal activities. Most women find that strenuous exercise, overhead lifting, and certain activities are not possible for four to six weeks. Your doctor will have a better idea of recovery time for your specific surgery.

Remember, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding if breast reconstruction is the right choice for you. There is no hurry to make a decision, as many options are available after you are completely healed from your cancer surgery. When you are ready to discuss your options, you can always talk to your doctor, whether it is before your cancer surgery, months or even years after your surgery.

References

1 Gabka, Christian J; Heinz Bohmert; and Phillip N Blondeel. (2009) Plastic and Recontructive Surgery of the Breast. New York: George Thieme Verlag.

2 Breast Reconstruction – Frequently Asked Questions. (2011) Retrieved from the University of Pennsylvania Health System at: www.uphs.upenn.edu/surgery/clin/plas/FAQ_Breast_Recon.pdf

3 Ibid

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.