If you’ve have a mastectomy because of breast cancer, you may choose to have reconstructive plastic surgery. It can restore symmetry between the two breasts by replacing skin, breast tissue, and the removed nipple.
The amount of reconstruction will depend on the mastectomy, and the width, size, and location of the removed tumor.
By Amy Engeler
On September 2 of last year, Tomomi Arikawa left her office door open as she slipped out to her two o'clock sonogram appointment. She expected to return shortly — the imaging center was just across town from her office at ABC News, where she was a story editor for 20/20. At her gynecologist's urging, Tomomi was going to have a tender lump in her right breast checked out. The lump felt squishy, like a piece of Bubble Wrap, not like a hard kernel or a marble or any of the objects tumors...
The long-term prospects of living without a breast or part of one affects every woman differently. The choice for one woman won't necessarily be right for another. It’s a personal decision, and it's often not easy to make.
You can choose to skip reconstruction. You can wear external breast forms or pads, or make no attempt to change your appearance.
Improvements in plastic surgery mean better results now than ever before, though. You can choose breast reconstruction using either breast implants or your own tissue.
The operation changes your appearance, but it can have psychological benefits as well. It can add to a sense of wellness for you and your family.
Is It Cosmetic Surgery?
Restoring the breast isn’t considered a cosmetic procedure. It’s reconstructive surgery. Since it’s considered part of the treatment of a disease, the law says insurance providers must provide coverage.
When’s the Best Time to Have Breast Reconstruction?
The timing is based on your desires, medical conditions, and cancer treatment. You can choose to have it done during the same operation to remove the breast, or months or years after a mastectomy.
If you've started any chemotherapy or radiation treatments, reconstruction is usually postponed until you complete those treatments. Your surgeon can help you decide the right timing for you.
What Are the Different Reconstruction Options?
You and your doctor will need to talk about your wants and needs, your medical condition, and any previous surgery before you decide.
Implants involve stretching the skin with a tissue expander that goes inside you, and then inserting a silicone-gel or saline (salt water) implant weeks later. The tissue expander is filled to a desired volume by adding saline, usually once a week for a few sessions. Many women find these sessions painful, but they’re often pleased with the final result.