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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Exploring Breast Reconstruction Surgery: Pros and Cons

After the numbing tidal wave of emotion following a breast cancer diagnosis — the fear, anxiety, shock, anger, and disbelief — it’s hard to comprehend the enormity of what lies ahead. It may take time to adjust to your new reality as someone with breast cancer. Despite the overwhelming emotions, you must navigate the labyrinth of treatment options. It’s a lot to grasp, requiring careful consideration, and probably includes a crash course about the pros and cons of available treatment options.

Once diagnosed, many women undergo a mastectomy or lumpectomy to remove the affected breast tissue. Following this, they often face a decision about whether to have breast reconstruction surgery. While reconstruction can help restore the breast’s appearance, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding if it is right for you.

The choice to have breast reconstruction surgery is highly personal; however, understanding the pros and cons can help you make an informed decision.

The Basics of Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Breast reconstruction surgery is a procedure often performed to restore the shape, size, and appearance of a person’s breast after a mastectomy or lumpectomy. The surgery can be performed at the same time as the mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or a later date (delayed reconstruction). In some cases, doctors recommend waiting if follow-up treatments like radiation are needed, as they may damage reconstruction results.

The two main types are implant reconstruction, which uses silicone or saline breast implants, and autologous, or “flap” reconstruction, which uses tissue from another part of the patient’s body. The American Cancer Society provides an excellent detailed guide on the basics of these procedures.

Pro: Restoration of Body Image and Self-Esteem

One of the most significant benefits of breast reconstruction is the potential to restore body image and self-esteem after breast cancer. Many women report feeling more confident and comfortable with their bodies post-reconstruction.

Breast reconstruction aims to achieve symmetry between the two breasts, which can be especially helpful for those with a unilateral (one-sided) mastectomy.

Con: Potential Complications and Risks

Like any surgery, breast reconstruction has potential risks and complications. These can include infection, bleeding, pain, and complications relating to anesthesia. Additionally, there can be complications specific to the type of reconstruction, like an implant rupture or flap failure.

Pro: Choice and Control

Breast reconstruction offers women a degree of choice and control over their bodies post-cancer. It allows them to choose how they wish to appear after a mastectomy or lumpectomy, providing a sense of agency when many aspects of life may feel out of control.

Con: Additional Surgeries and Recovery Time

Breast reconstruction often requires multiple surgeries, particularly in the case of flap reconstruction. It can mean more time in the hospital, more recovery time, and more time away from work or other responsibilities.

Pro: Improved Clothing Fit

Many women report that clothes fit better after breast reconstruction. It can make shopping and dressing more enjoyable and less stressful, aiding recovery and improving quality of life.

Con: May Delay Return to Normal Activities

The recovery period following breast reconstruction surgery can be lengthy, potentially delaying your return to normal activities, work, or exercise. Each person’s recovery timeline will be different, and it’s crucial to consider personal circumstances when thinking about this surgery.

Pro: Eliminate the Need for External Prostheses

Some people choose between using a prosthesis or breast reconstruction surgery. Women who choose reconstruction surgery won’t need to use and maintain external prostheses. Surgery can be convenient for those who are active or find prostheses uncomfortable.

Making an Informed Decision

Deciding on reconstructive breast surgery is a personal choice that depends on each individual’s unique situation. Consulting with your cancer treatment team and plastic surgeon can help you weigh your specific pros and cons. While reconstruction has benefits, it also carries risks that need careful consideration.

Count On Us for Information, Resources, and Support

Whether you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, are navigating survivorship, or are the loved one of someone experiencing breast cancer, you can count on to keep you informed. We provide educational information to help you better understand symptoms, testing, treatment options, surgery, etc., and podcasts that feature professionals, advocates, and caregivers that share valuable information.

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Note: This article is designed to provide general information and is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Always discuss your options with your healthcare provider.

Learn more:

On the Podcast: Breast Cancer Conversations

The Importance of Physical Therapy in Breast Cancer Recovery with Expert Derly Munoz

DIEP Flap Reconstruction: What you need to know about Changes in Insurance Codes

Mastectomy Recovery Tips: What I wish I had known Resources & Support:

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