Breast reconstruction surgery for breast cancer is performed to replace skin, breast tissue, and the nipple removed during a mastectomy. The amount of missing tissue varies with each mastectomy. Factors contributing to the amount of tissue removed include the width, size, and location of the original tumor and its proximity to the armpit (called the axilla), from which the lymph nodes are removed.
The ultimate goal of reconstruction is to restore symmetry between the two breasts.
Most of the more than 232,000 cases of breast cancer that will be diagnosed in the United States this year are not due to a faulty gene passed down through families. As with most other cancers, they happen because of genetic mutations that happen as we age.
But about 15% of women with breast cancer have at least one relative who has also had the disease, and 5% to 10% have specific inherited mutations in one of two genes that have been linked to breast cancer, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
When it comes to breast reconstruction, the choices that are right for one woman aren't necessarily right for another. That's because the long-term prospects of living without a breast or part of a breast affect every woman differently.
After your mastectomy, you may choose to wear external breast forms or pads, or you may choose to not alter your appearance at all. Some women have breast reconstruction, using either breast implants or their own tissue.
Improvements in plastic surgery techniques offer better results today than ever before and make breast reconstruction an option for most women facing a mastectomy.
Many women believe that breast reconstruction not only improves physical appearance, but has psychological benefits, as well. It's thought to promote a sense of wellness for the woman and her family.
The decision, however, is a personal one.
Is Breast Reconstruction Considered Cosmetic Surgery?
Restoring the breast through breast reconstruction is not considered cosmetic surgery. Operations performed to restore anatomy and symmetry, like breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, are considered reconstructive surgery. Since breast reconstruction after mastectomy is part of the treatment of a disease and not cosmetic surgery, according to the Women's Health Care Act, health insurance companies usually pay the major portion of the cost of the procedure. Contact your insurance carrier about your coverage for breast reconstruction.
When Is the Best Time to Have Breast Reconstruction?
Timing of breast reconstruction is based on the woman's desires, other medical conditions, and breast cancer treatment. Whenever possible, plastic surgeons encourage women to begin breast reconstruction at the same time they are having their mastectomy. For many women, immediate reconstruction reduces the trauma of having a breast removed, as well as the expense and discomfort of undergoing two major operations.
It is also possible to do breast reconstruction months or years after a mastectomy. For some women, this may be advised if radiation following mastectomy was or will be performed.
Your surgical team can help you determine the best time for your breast reconstruction.