According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. Treatments for breast cancer are improving all the time, and with those advances come a growing number of options for women who have mastectomy surgery as part of their breast cancer treatment.
Some breast cancer survivors find that losing one or both breasts to cancer leaves them feeling incomplete, both physically and emotionally. This loss can be a constant reminder of a painful time in their life that makes it difficult to move forward. If you have had a mastectomy, breast reconstruction surgery can restore the shape and look of your breasts and help you feel like your whole, healthy self again. Learn more about your options for breast reconstruction in Kalamazoo below and contact West Michigan Plastic Surgery to schedule a consultation with Dr. Scott Holley.
Breast Reconstruction Is Your Choice
Breast reconstruction is not right for every woman. Some women are not candidates for the procedure. Other women choose not to have breast reconstruction for personal reasons. Those who do not undergo reconstructive surgery may use a breast form or prosthesis under their clothing, or may decide to “go flat” as a symbol of winning their battle with breast cancer. Every woman must decide for herself whether reconstructing her breasts is the right choice for her body and her life.
Timing Is Everything
Your breast reconstruction can take place at the same time as your mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or at a later date (delayed reconstruction). Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Undergoing immediate reconstruction can mean avoiding a subsequent surgery and recovery period, as well as avoiding the emotionally challenging experience of seeing yourself with no breast. Delayed reconstruction gives you the chance to focus on your cancer treatment and more time to consider your reconstructive options before making a decision. The ideal timing for you will depend on your health, surgical risk factors and any breast cancer treatments you will need after your surgery.
There Are Many Types of Breast Reconstruction
Surgeons use two primary techniques for reconstructing the breasts. Implant reconstruction involves the use of a silicone or saline-filled implant to restore the shape and volume of the breast. If the mastectomy has not left enough tissue to cover the implant, implant reconstruction may require the use of a tissue expander first before an implant can be inserted. An autologous or flap reconstruction uses the patient’s own tissue to rebuild the breast mound by transplanting a section of tissue from a donor site to the chest. There are various autologous techniques that take tissue from different areas of the body, including the upper back, abdomen or buttocks. Each option for breast reconstruction has pros and cons that should be thoroughly discussed with your medical team before making a decision.
Recovery Is a Critical Part of Reconstruction
Depending on the extent of your reconstructive surgery, you will need to remain in the hospital for two to five days after your procedure. You will feel sore and tired for a week or two after surgery, and may temporarily require surgical drains to remove excess fluid during the initial phase of the healing process. You will need to avoid overhead lifting, strenuous sports and sexual activity for three to six weeks following breast reconstruction. It can take up to six weeks to recover from a combined mastectomy and reconstruction or from a flap reconstruction alone. If implant reconstruction is done separately from the mastectomy, recovery time may be shorter.
Breast Reconstruction Is Often a Multi-Step Process
As you think about your options for breast reconstruction, it’s important to consider that most techniques involve a series of procedures that occur over time. Implant reconstruction requires two separate procedures if a tissue expander is used. Both implant and autologous reconstruction may require multiple surgeries to refine the result. Nipple reconstruction is a follow-up procedure that takes place after healing from the initial reconstructive operation is complete. For patients who had a single mastectomy, many surgeons recommend an additional operation called a “matched procedure” to enlarge, reduce or lift the natural breast to match the reconstructed breast.
Set Appropriate Expectations
Breast reconstruction can help you regain your sense of femininity, your confidence, your self-image, your peace of mind and your quality of life. It is an immensely rewarding procedure for many women, but it is important to understand its limitations. You will have visible scars after breast reconstruction. They will fade over time, but they will never go away entirely. A reconstructed breast may never match a natural breast perfectly. It may not look and feel as much like natural breast tissue as you want it to, and you may lose some or all sensation in the reconstructed breast. It can take time to see your reconstructed breast is part of your body. Speaking to your surgeon, a mental health professional and other women who have had reconstructive surgery can help you plan for life after the procedure.
Most Insurance Plans Pay For Breast Reconstruction
Federal law requires most group and individual health plans to cover the cost of breast reconstruction if they cover the cost of mastectomy. The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) of 1998 states that these plans should offer coverage for:
- Reconstruction of the breast on which mastectomy was performed
- Surgery on the opposite breast if it is needed to produce a symmetrical appearance
- Breast prostheses
- Treatment of any complications if they arise
WHCRA applies to most, but not all, health plans. Communicate with your insurance carrier to confirm that reconstructive surgery is covered under your plan and obtain preauthorization.
Most People Are Candidates for Breast Reconstruction
Almost all mastectomy patients can undergo breast reconstruction. However, every woman is not a candidate for every type of reconstruction. Your surgeon will explain which reconstructive techniques are most appropriate after evaluating your age, health, anatomy and goals. Your surgeon will also help you decide whether immediate reconstruction or delayed reconstruction is a better option for your circumstances. Your consultation is the ideal time to ask questions and voice any concerns you have, so you can make informed decisions about your post-mastectomy care.
Schedule Your Breast Reconstruction Consultation Today
When it comes to making the deeply personal decision to have reconstructive surgery after breast cancer, nothing is more important than understanding the options available to you. Dr. Scott Holley and his team at West Michigan Plastic Surgery are honored to be part of your journey as a breast cancer survivor and are here to support you through every step of your decision-making process. Please schedule a consultation to meet with Dr. Holley at one of his practices in Portage or Battle Creek.