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.
WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called “Me & the Girls,” explores the personal stories of these women after they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Ilene Smith, MS, RD, 49, lives in the New York area. In late October 2007, Smith felt a lump in her left breast while on a conference call for work. "I got cold, and so I put my hand under my arm, and I felt the...
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.