Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women, following skin cancer. Approximately 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, according to BreastCancer.org. One of the most common forms of treatment for breast cancer is a mastectomy, or removal of a part or whole of one or both breasts. After this surgery, many women choose to undergo breast reconstruction surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast.
When is breast reconstruction surgery performed?
Breast reconstruction is typically associated with repairing the breasts after mastectomy. It can be performed either during the same surgical procedure as the mastectomy or at a later date. The breast can be remodeled in several ways, including using implants or flaps. You also may want to undergo nipple reconstruction, since the nipple and areola may be removed during a mastectomy. This procedure is usually performed at a later time once the new breast tissue has completely healed.
Your decision about breast reconstruction surgery will be influenced by several factors, including any further cancer treatments and your overall health. Many patients choose to not have surgery at all. Instead, they wear special padding or a breast form in place of the breast. Other women choose to simply live with their breasts as they are after the mastectomy surgery. The right solution depends upon a variety of factors, the most important of which is individual preferences.
Immediate versus delayed approaches to breast reconstruction surgery
Both the immediate and delayed approaches to breast reconstruction surgery offer various pros and cons. Many women choose to undergo breast reconstruction immediately to take advantage of already being under anesthesia. It may slightly extend the recovery period for the mastectomy, but because everything is done at once, the overall time needed to recover is reduced. Immediate surgery can also result in a better aesthetic outcome. If you do choose to have an immediate reconstruction surgery, you will need to coordinate your surgery with your plastic surgeon.
There are several valid reasons for delaying the surgery as well. Those who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, or other cancer treatments typically should wait to have breast reconstruction until the cancer treatments are complete. Cancer treatments can actually alter the breast implants and results of other reconstructive procedures. Some women also choose to wait in order to have time to fully recover before undergoing further surgery. Additionally, some reconstructions are extensive and may require more than one surgery.
How is breast reconstruction performed?
Breast reconstruction surgery is performed similarly whether it occurs immediately after the mastectomy or at a later time. The surgery can take between one and six hours, depending on the procedure. The breasts can be rebuilt using breast implants filled with either silicone gel or saline. The surgeon can also perform a tissue flap procedure, which is when skin, muscle, and fat from another part of the body, such as the back, buttocks, or abdomen, are used to repair the breast.
The surgery may be performed on only one breast or both, depending on the extent of the cancer. If a woman needs a mastectomy and reconstruction on only one breast, a breast augmentation, lift, or reduction may be recommended for the other breast to ensure symmetry.
What is the expected recovery period for breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction surgery typically requires a hospital stay of at least one day. The length of stay and recovery period depends on the type of surgery. For implants, the hospital stay is typically one to two days, while for flaps it may be five to six. You may experience some pain and discomfort for a few days after surgery. Your doctor will recommend that you move around soon after surgery, but you will not be allowed to engage in strenuous activity, including lifting heavy objects or pulling yourself up.
After leaving the hospital, you will continue to experience some side effects, including swelling, soreness, and bruising for two to three weeks. Within six to eight weeks, you can typically resume normal activities, although you may have to wait longer for some forms of strenuous exercise. You may also feel numbness rather than pain in the area where the surgery was performed.
Reconstruction surgery can help improve a woman's self-esteem after a mastectomy. It is also often covered by insurance, making it an affordable option for most women. Consider speaking with a plastic surgeon about your options before you schedule your mastectomy. Request a consultation with Monarch Plastic Surgery today to learn more about breast reconstruction.