Reconstructive plastic 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 axilla, where the lymph glands are removed.
The ultimate goal of reconstruction is to restore symmetry between the two breasts.
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...
When it comes to breast reconstruction, the choices that are right for one woman won't necessarily be 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 make no attempt to alter your appearance. Or you may choose breast reconstruction, using either breast implants or your own tissue.
Continual improvements in plastic surgery techniques offer better results today than ever before and make breast reconstruction an option for most women facing a mastectomy.
The decision, however, is a personal one and often not easy to make.
Why Should I Consider Breast Reconstruction?
Restoring the breast 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 considered part of the treatment of a disease, The Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act mandates that insurers provide coverage for breast reconstruction following mastectomy surgery.
Breast reconstruction not only changes your physical appearance, but has psychological benefits, as well. It can help promote a sense of wellness for you and your family.
When Should Breast Reconstruction Be Performed?
Timing of reconstructive surgery is based on the patient's desires, medical conditions, and cancer treatment. For many women, immediate reconstruction -- done during the mastectomy surgery -- reduces the trauma of having a breast removed, as well as the expense and discomfort of two major operations.
It is also possible to do breast reconstruction months or years after a mastectomy. If any chemotherapy or radiation treatments have already been started, reconstruction is usually postponed until those treatments are completed. Your surgical team can help you decide the appropriate timing for reconstruction.