A doctor holding two silicon implants for a breast reconstruction surgery
Silicone implants are one option that can be used for breast cancer reconstruction surgery.

Everything You Need to Know About Breast Cancer Reconstruction Surgery

Breast cancer can be an extremely trying ordeal. Oftentimes, a surgery called a mastectomy is required as part of the treatment process. A mastectomy is the removal of one’s breast. After a mastectomy, breast cancer reconstruction surgery is often considered. It can occur after or even during the mastectomy. One may also choose to go through with breast reconstruction surgery years down the line.

Who is Breast Reconstruction Surgery For?

Breast cancer reconstruction surgery is available for people who have had a portion of their breast removed, an entire breast, or both breasts removed. Deciding whether to receive the surgery is an extremely personal decision, so there are a lot of things one may want to consider.

Talking with your cancer doctors as well as a plastic surgeon may help you decide with more confidence. Not only will your doctors be able to outline any potential risks, they can also inform you of your potential recovery period, and they’ll be able to tell you what to expect from the process.

They’ll be able to inform you whether it’d be better for you to wait to receive the surgery, or if it’d be okay to receive it immediately, depending on your condition. Often, if one is undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, it’s recommended to wait until after these treatments are complete.

If you’re seeing a mental health professional for treatment as well, you may also want to talk to them about some of the emotions you’re feeling regarding this decision. Processing those emotions may help provide you with some insight as to what’s best for you.

Another choice that you may consider is not having breast reconstruction surgery at all. Remember, you can always choose to go through with the surgery later on if you change your mind.

Regardless, the final decision is yours and yours only.

Cost of Breast Reconstruction

Cost is something that always must be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, breast reconstruction surgery can be expensive. In the US, there are many insurance plans that do cover breast reconstruction to a certain extent, where the total cost to the patient would only be a few hundred dollars or so.

The actual cost will depend on the specific situation as well as the insurance provider. However, for those who don’t have insurance, the cost can be high. It can be up to as much as $15,000 per breast depending on the patient’s specific situation.

Additional information about appealing to insurance companies and dealing with costs can be found here.

What Happens During Breast Reconstruction Surgery?

According to BreastCancer.org, “During reconstruction, a plastic surgeon creates a breast shape using an artificial implant (implant reconstruction), a flap of tissue from another place on your body (autologous reconstruction), or both.”

However, there are various forms of breast reconstruction that are available.

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Reconstruction can use an implant filled with saline, silicone, or both. There’s also a reconstruction method called autologous reconstruction. Autologous reconstruction uses tissue from another part of your body in order to imitate breast tissue. In some situations, both methods may be used. Reconstruction of the nipple is also something one may choose to do as well.

Implants tend to be an overall easier surgery to go through with. The recovery time is shorter, and the procedure is more straightforward. However, over time implants are more likely to experience issues. Oftentimes these require additional treatment procedures as well.

Autologous reconstruction is more difficult, time-consuming, and has a longer recovery period. That being said, in the long run, it requires significantly less maintenance.

“Flaps perform better over time; a flap done well should not need more attention over the course of a lifetime,” according to Frank J. DellaCroce, M.D., F.A.C.S., plastic surgeon and co-founder of the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery.

These are definitely factors to consider when you make your decision as to whether or not reconstruction surgery is for you.

Pre-operative Care for Breast Reconstruction Surgery

In the weeks leading up to the surgery, there are certain actions that you can take to make your surgery and recovery go as well as possible. Eating a balanced diet can help ensure that your recovery is as efficient as possible. Your recovery will also benefit from an increased intake of fluids in the weeks leading up to the surgery.

Leading up to the day of the surgery there are certain things you’ll want to keep in mind. Be sure to tell your doctors about any medications you may be taking on a regular basis, or that you may have taken before the procedure. You should also inform your doctor about any vitamins or dietary supplements that you may be taking. It’s important to not eat or drink after midnight before the surgery.

Care for After the Surgery

The time that you stay in the hospital often depends on the specifics of the procedure itself. It can range from 2–6 days depending on the procedure. Autologous reconstruction will require more recovery time in general. It’s important to limit your physical activity after the surgery, and avoid any heavy lifting. You should expect some soreness, swelling, and pain for 2–3 weeks after the surgery.

Most patients can return to their daily routines within 6–8 weeks. However, it may take a few more weeks of recovery to return to strenuous exercise.

Making Your Decision

Overall, the decision can only be made by you. Equipping yourself with as much research as possible and understanding how you feel about each of your available choices will help you make the decision that’s best for you.