Each year more than 292,000 American women face breast cancer. Today, the emotional and physical results are very different from what they were in the past. Much more is now known about breast cancer and its treatment. New kinds of treatment, as well as improved reconstructive surgery mean women who have breast cancer today have better choices.
More women with breast cancer are choosing surgery that removes only part of the breast tissue. This may be called breast conservation surgery, lumpectomy or segmental mastectomy. But, some women have a mastectomy, which means the entire breast is removed.
Reconstructive surgery includes a newly-shaped breast with the use of a breast implant, a tissue flap (a section of your own skin, fat and in some cases muscle) or a combination of the two.
Women choose breast reconstruction for many reasons including:
- To make the chest look balanced when wearing a bra or swimsuit
- To permanently regain breast shape
- To avoid using a form that fits inside a bra (an external prosthesis)
If you are thinking about having reconstructive surgery, it is a good idea to talk about it with your surgeon and a plastic surgeon experienced in breast reconstruction before the mastectomy. This allows the surgical teams to plan the best treatment, even if you want to wait and have reconstructive surgery later. Immediate breast reconstruction
is done, or at least started, at the same time as the mastectomy. An advantage to this is that the chest tissues are not damaged by radiation therapy or scarring. This often means the final result looks better. Also, immediate reconstruction means less surgery. Delayed breast reconstruction
means the rebuilding is started later. This may be a better choice for some women who need radiation to the chest area after the mastectomy. Radiation therapy given after breast reconstruction surgery can cause problems.
Some women do not want to think about reconstruction while coping with a diagnosis of cancer. If this is the case, you may choose to wait until after your breast cancer surgery to decide about reconstruction.
Knowing the reconstruction options before surgery can help you prepare for a mastectomy with a more realistic outlook for the future.
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