You might find yourself considering breast reconstruction after a scary cancer diagnosis. Here is information on how to pick the perfect procedure for your needs, and what to expect before, during and after the procedure.
1. How to Decide
Many women who have had their breasts removed due to cancer struggle with the decision of whether to undergo reconstruction. Some women take pride in their new figures, while others prefer to get back the breasts they had — or even the breasts they always wanted. Making lemonade out of lemons is the best for some, but only you can make that decision for yourself. The American Cancer Society has a program called Reach to Recovery that sets up current patients with breast cancer survivors who are trained as peer counselors. If you’re struggling with the thought of reconstruction, it may be helpful to talk to such a person about this decision.
2. The Timing
Breast cancer patients can choose to have a reconstruction at the same time they have a mastectomy. However, some people want to finish their cancer treatment before making decisions about reconstruction. That’s why there is also the option to have reconstruction after treatment is complete. Some surgeons recommend reconstruction later because other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can affect how your breasts will heal.
3. Know Your Options
Once you have made the decision to go ahead with the surgery, you should talk with your plastic surgeon about the different options for the procedure. First, there is the TRAM flap, which uses fat and muscle from the patient’s own abdomen to reshape the breast. There is also the DIEP flap, SIEP flap, SGAP flap, TUG flap or PAP flap. These procedures are just different names to identify where the tissues will come from. The options include the abdomen, thigh and rear end. Additionally, the surgeon can add implants or tissue expanders on top of the reconstruction for a better result in many cases.
4. Know the Risks
The main risk for breast reconstruction is a loss of sensation in the breasts. Most patients who undergo the surgery don’t worry much about this side effect because they like the fact that they can walk around and feel relatively normal in a bikini at the beach. They can wear the clothes that make them feel good. At the same time, some patients do discover that sensation returns over time.
The good thing is that breast reconstruction does not interfere with cancer treatment, should breast cancer come back, nor does it cause breast cancer to return. However, if you choose reconstruction at the time of mastectomy and then have to get radiation therapy, know that the radiation can interfere with how naturally your breasts will heal. In this case, it’s best to delay reconstruction until after any radiation treatments.
5. Recovery Time
Breast reconstruction recovery takes about 6-8 weeks. After 3-4 weeks you may feel fairly normal, but it’s best to not return to your normal vigorous activities until the full recovery time has passed. Your doctor will give you the official OK when you’re free to resume all normal activities.
Breast reconstruction patients with tissue expanders will visit the surgeon’s office about once a week for anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks post-surgery for expansion purposes.