By Rod Ritchie
Why a man might worry about breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is a fair question. For women, on the other hand, breasts are more often an essential part of their identity, help stimulate sexual desire, and serve a practical role in feeding their baby. When I was diagnosed, my main thought was having cancer that I didn’t think men got, while coming to terms with the fact that I even had breasts.
When I asked my surgeon later why I wasn’t offered reconstruction after my breast surgery, she seemed surprised. While it is possible to rebuild a facsimile of a guy’s breast, she explained, the lack of extra material makes it harder and actually inhibits the surgeon who really has to work hard to remove the affected tissue, since cancer often travels further in male breasts.
Impact of advanced breast cancer treatment
Being happy to have my cancer removed meant I put aside the thought of post-treatment aesthetics. I was treated through winter, and baring my chest was the last thing on my mind. When I emerged in spring, bald from chemotherapy, scarred from breast surgery, and burnt from radiation, I felt anything but normal. For some reason, I thought that my mastectomy scar would lay flat against my chest. I yearned for normality in my body and was disappointed when I finally healed elsewhere, but I was left with a scar and a concave depression where my left breast used to be. With summer approaching, I was wondering what sort of looks I might get at the pool or on the beach.
I never pursued reconstruction, but, six years post-treatment, I often think that it’s something I should have considered. I know lots of guys with breast cancer, but not so many who’ve had breast reconstruction. I’ve learned from the excellent Breast Advocate app, (which provides impartial, evidence-based information and recommendations to suit individuals, regardless of gender) that men have several options available to them.
The Male Breast Cancer Coalition survey of men found that half of the guys were offered reconstruction, yet only 7% of them chose it. Of those who did, 73% were happy with the result, while 87% indicated they were not interested in considering the procedure in the future. (1)
However, reproducing a facsimile of your removed breast or breasts is possible. Realistic results will depend on the skill of the surgeon, and the task is often performed by an onco-plastic surgeon. Breastcancer.org provides a great list of questions to ask beforehand including: (2)
How many men have you reconstructed?
What type of reconstruction is best for me?
What will my breast look like following reconstruction?
How will my reconstructed feel to touch?
How will aging affect my reconstructed breast?
Embrace your decision
Only you need to be happy with the decision you make, and it’s obviously a personal one based on so many factors. While I chose to stay flat, and although I’m quite happy to bare my chest in public these days, I was amused when my young grandkids asked what happened to my chest.
I said, “I was in a sword fight.”
“Cool,” they replied.
What has been your experience with reconstruction?
Cure. Reconstruction Is an Option for Male Breast Cancer. Available at: https://www.curetoday.com/view/reconstruction-is-an-option-for-male-breast-cancer. Accessed on Jan 05 21.
BreastCancer.org. Questions to Ask Your Surgeon About Breast Reconstruction. Available at: https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/reconstruction/questions-to-ask. Accessed on Jan 05 21.
Rod Ritchie is a Sydney-born writer, internet publisher, and breast cancer patient activist, living with breast and prostate cancers. Currently, he’s NED for both. He’s President, Board of Directors, Male Breast Cancer Global Alliance, has a website at MaleBC.org and you can follow him on Twitter @malefitness.
His articles for Health Union can be found here.
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