Breast cancer can be a hard diagnosis to accept, and finding the best and safest reconstruction procedures for you is a huge step toward improving self-image and quality of life. Even after those initial decisions, though, there still may be challenging details to work out before your reconstruction is complete. In this second installment of our Breast Cancer Awareness blog, we’re taking time to address some of our patients’ most frequently voiced questions and concerns about the breast reconstruction process.
How soon after a mastectomy is it safe to have reconstruction?
Some procedures can be performed at the same time as a mastectomy, while others occur in stages once the mastectomy has had time to heal. Breast reconstruction timing is based on your clinical treatment plan, including any possible radiation or chemotherapy. It’s also important to understand that having one procedure done at the time of your mastectomy doesn’t mean you can’t pursue other options further down the road.
How long will it take to schedule my surgery?
For placing expanders, surgery can usually be scheduled within two weeks from your consultation. For reconstruction using your own tissue, your surgeon will need two to four weeks to coordinate a longer period of time for the procedure (up to a whole day, if needed).
I’m scheduled for cancer surgery, but still not sure about pursuing reconstruction. What’s my safest bet? If you’re still undecided, you can opt to have an expander placed at the time of your mastectomy. An expander holds the space to keep your future options open. It doesn’t require any extension to your hospital stay, and it will give you more time to recover emotionally and make the best choice for permanent reconstruction.
Why are expander implants usually placed right after a mastectomy?
After most mastectomies, the remaining breast skin needs time to heal without the volume (and pressure) of the fully reconstructed breast. An expander will gradually stretch the skin and surrounding tissue over time (usually 3-6 months), creating a soft pocket to safely place a permanent implant later on. This gradual expansion also allows more accurate tailoring to the desired breast volume.
I’ve had a mastectomy on just one breast. Will my reconstruction be able to match the other breast? Women who have had only one breast removed sometimes opt for augmentation, reduction, or a lift to help balance the remaining breast after reconstruction. You can also opt for nipple reconstruction or tattooing (coloring) to help restore a closer match. Nipple procedures are usually done last, at the end of the reconstruction process.
There are so many options! How do I know what’s right for me?
It’s important to remember that breast reconstruction should be done for yourself, not to meet another person’s expectations or ideals. Your plastic surgeon can help determine the best and safest procedures for your physical needs and expectations. During your consultation, be candid about your goals, overall health, and lifestyle.