Risks and Benefits of Breast Reconstruction

What is Reconstruction Surgery?

Breast Reconstruction after a mastectomy for cancer or for the prevention of cancer is considered “elective”. This simply means that it is not required to save your life. However, surviving breast cancer and living with the physical and emotional consequences that remain is not an easy task. Having reconstructive surgery not only restores your physical appearance, but for many women it has an emotional impact as well and can certainly change your life.


The following are the two main categories of reconstructive procedures:

  1. Breast implants (with or without tissue expanders prior)
  2. Various flap procedures

What are the Risks of Each

There are risks involved with every surgery.  These include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots in the legs

Reconstructive surgery after breast cancer does have some other potential risks that are associated.

What are the Risks Associated with Breast Implants?

  • The implant may leak over time. This is rare and typically occurs within the first 10 years of placement, requiring surgical removal and/or exchange.
  • Occasionally during the healing process, scar tissue forms over the implants and changes the shape of the breast. This is called capsular contraction and it can sometimes require surgery to try and fix the problem. However, surgery to remove scar tissue, creates scar tissue.
  • As you heal and form scar tissue, the implants may shift from their desired location. If this occurs the symmetry of the breasts may change. This can be repaired with another surgery if severe; however, it may not be bad enough to require another surgery.

What are the Risks Associated with Flap Procedures?

  • Symmetry may be more difficult to achieve with tissue flaps
  • The tissue may not “take” due to compromise of blood supply after transfer causing necrosis, or tissue death, requiring surgical excision of the dead tissue
  • Infection or bleeding at the surgical site

What are the Benefits of Reconstructive Breast Surgery?

The benefits of breast reconstruction after breast cancer are largely emotional and psychological rather than physical. However, a woman’s physical appearance does have an effect on her overall well-being. Many of the benefits are listed below:

  • The ability to wear articles of clothing that you were able to wear before, such as swim suits, ball gowns and tank tops
  • To regain symmetry of the breasts
  • To restore the appearance of a nipple
  • Restore self-esteem and feelings of femininity


Some studies concerning breast reconstruction after cancer have shown that women have an increased sense of self-worth and confidence, while others have found no significant difference in emotional well-being after reconstruction. [1] The choice to proceed with or decline breast reconstruction is personal and it should be made only when you feel that you are ready to make an informed decision.


1 Harcourt, DM; Rumsey, NJ; Ambler, NR; Cawthorn, SJ; Reid, CD; Maddox, PR; Kenealy, JM; Rainsbury, RM;and Umpleby, HC (2003). The Psychological Effect of Mastectomy with or Without Breast Reconstruction: A Prospective, Multicenter Study. Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, 111(3):1060-8.

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