Reconstructive Surgery for Breast Cancer: What to Know

"We can make the breast look as normal as possible.”

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Whether or not a woman chooses to reconstruct her breast(s) during or after breast cancer surgery is 100% a personal decision. Some women may see the absence of a breast or a difference in the look of their breasts as a symbol of strength.

For other women, however, the change to their body can significantly affect their self-confidence, intimacy, body image, and ability to cope. Learn more about why these women chose to reconstruct after mastectomy surgery.

“I think the majority of patients that get diagnosed with cancer just want the cancer out,” says Jaime Alberty-Oller, MD, breast cancer oncologist and surgeon at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. “They just want treatment, and if the cancer is removed safely and the breast looks fine, they will be happy with that.”

Dr. Alberty-Oller wants to reassure patients that with any breast cancer surgery, taking the cancer out safely is always the number one priority.

“Nowadays we feel comfortable being able to offer not only the surgery for the cancer, but also the reconstruction surgery as well,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. “The reconstructive options that we have are pretty amazing and we can make the breast look as normal as possible.”

Types of Breast Reconstruction Surgery

They are many types of reconstructive surgery, but the options available to you may depend on your medical situation and personal preferences. Breast reconstruction may be done at the same time as your breast cancer surgery, or be done after—even years later.

“Reconstructive surgery pretty much refers to recreating something in a void. You take out a breast, you leave an empty area behind, and then you recreate a mound that looks as much like a breast as possible,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. “When we talk about oncoplastic surgery, it means removing the cancer and then rearranging the breast so that it looks the most like it did before,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.

To reconstruct the breasts, your doctor may offer these options:

    • Using breast implants, often made of silicone or saline

    • Using your own body tissues from other parts of your body

After lumpectomy, a surgeon may enhance the appearance of the breast using fat injections to plump up areas where tissue has been removed. They may also do a breast lift or reduction.

After mastectomy, surgeons may rebuild the breast using breast implant surgery and/or using tissue from another part of your body to create a new breast.

In addition, women may opt for nipple/areola tattooing to make the reconstructed breast look more like the original breast.

If you’re considering reconstructive surgery, it’s important to talk to your breast surgeon about it before the surgery. Even if you know you want to have it after your breast cancer surgery, letting them know ahead of time gives the surgical team time to plan out the treatment options that might be best for you.

What to Expect After Breast Reconstruction Surgery

After your breast cancer surgery, whether it includes reconstruction or not, you will need to go back seven to 10 days later for a follow-up appointment with your surgeon.

“The point of that visit is to look at their wounds, see how they’re healing, and also, when we talk about cancer, we need to look at the pathology report,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller. "We need to see exactly how big the cancer was, what type of cancer it was, and if we need any further surgery to be performed.”

Learn more about what to expect after a lumpectomy surgery here, and learn more about what to expect after a mastectomy surgery here.

If a patient has had reconstructive surgery, they’ll need to visit their reconstructive surgeon as well. “In the initial visits, the patients will have their drains pulled, we will discuss the pathology report, and we’ll see how their wounds are healing,” says Dr. Alberty-Oller.

Had or going to have breast cancer surgery? Check out these fashionable tips from a breast cancer survivor: