Breast Reconstruction

If you need surgery for breast cancer, you probably have mixed emotions. You may feel relieved to know your tumor can be removed, but frightened by the consequences of surgery.

If you’re struggling with the thought of losing your breast(s), ask your doctor about options for preserving or recreating your breast(s). If your tumor is small, you might be eligible for breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy). And if you need or want your breast removed (mastectomy), you may choose to have breast reconstruction surgery.

What is Breast Reconstruction? 

Breast reconstruction refers to several types of surgery that rebuild the look and shape of a breast. There are two main types of surgery:

  • Breast implants. Your doctor will insert a silicone or saline implant underneath your remaining breast skin or chest muscle.
  • Flap surgery (autologous tissue reconstruction). Your doctor will use a “flap” of tissue from another part of your body to rebuild your breast. There are several kinds of surgery, including DIEP, TRAM and LD flap procedures. They’re named for the type of tissue used, and whether it contains attached blood vessels.

Breast reconstruction is usually performed on women who have a mastectomy. However, Mercy also offers “oncoplastic surgery” for women whose breast may be disfigured by lumpectomy.

What to Consider with Breast Reconstruction

You and your doctor will discuss reconstruction options that are best for you, based on your preferences and unique circumstances. You’ll need to think about many factors before deciding. Some of these factors you can control, and others you can’t. For example:

  • Timing. Some women can have reconstruction at the same time as mastectomy, to avoid extra surgery. Others must wait until a later date. You may have to delay reconstruction if you need radiation therapy after your mastectomy, or if you have certain medical conditions that impact healing.
  • Amount of tissue available. Some types of mastectomy remove the entire breast, including the skin and muscle. Other types leave most of the skin covering your breast in place. Your options depend on the amount of skin available to cover an implant, or whether you have enough tissue to transfer from another part of your body.
  • Risks and recovery. Each procedure has benefits and risks. Reconstruction with implants is usually a shorter procedure with a shorter recovery. But over time, implants can rupture or need replacement. Flap surgery may look and feel more natural than implants, but the procedure and recovery time are usually longer. And in rare cases, the transferred tissue may die (and need to be removed).

What to Expect from Breast Reconstruction 

We’ll help you understand what to expect before, during and after breast reconstruction. For example:

  • Cancer surgery and reconstructive surgery will leave scars on your breast. If you have flap surgery, you’ll also have a scar where tissue was removed.
  • Your new breast will not feel the same. You’ll probably lose sensation.
  • Your new breast will look different than a natural breast. You may need to have your nipple and areola reconstructed (or reproduced) using skin grafts and/or a special type of tattoo.
  • The size and shape of your new breast may not match your remaining breast. But you may be able to reduce, enlarge or lift your remaining breast to create symmetry.

Deciding whether to have breast reconstruction can be hard, especially when you’re fighting cancer at the same time. But you can count on Mercy for expert advice and emotional encouragement. We’ll support you throughout your cancer journey, no matter what path you choose.

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