Breast cancer affects approximately one in eight women in their lifetime, and it’s estimated that 250,000 women and 2,500 men will be diagnosed in 2017, according to breastcancer.org.
In addition, the organization cites that while a woman’s risk of breast cancer doubles if an immediate family member has had it, only about fifteen percent of women who get breast cancer have a family history.
“These are daunting statistics,” says Dr. Todd Baker, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Not only are women — and men — facing a devastating diagnosis that often requires radiation and chemotherapy, but many are also dealing with the physical and emotional trauma of losing one, or sometimes both breasts, with a mastectomy.”
For many breast cancer survivors, reconstructive breast surgery is something they wish to discuss simultaneously along with the mastectomy surgery.
Dr. Baker says that women have the choice to undergo breast reconstruction surgery immediately after a mastectomy or to have a delayed breast reconstruction.
“For breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomies, we help them determine the most appropriate type of breast reconstruction, if any,” Dr. Baker says. “While not every patient will choose reconstruction surgery, a surgeon will help those who do determine if immediate or delayed reconstruction is best.”
Patients should discuss breast reconstruction options and timing with a plastic and reconstructive surgeon before the mastectomy surgery. The patient and the plastic surgeon decide together on the best individualized reconstruction plan, but treating the cancer always takes precedence, Dr. Baker says.
If a patient decides to have immediate breast reconstruction, this ultimately helps with reducing the amount of surgery needed and recovery time. “Some patients will need additional radiation after mastectomy, and that is factored into the plan for reconstructive surgery,” says Dr. Baker.
Dr. Baker says there are several options for breast reconstruction surgery, including utilizing a patient’s own tissue, recreating the breast with the help of an implant or a combination of the two. In the case of a single-sided mastectomy, many patients also choose to undergo a symmetry operation as part of the reconstructive process.
The decision to undergo a reconstructive surgery is ultimately up to the patient, but there are several health factors that could contribute to that decision, he says.
“A woman’s general health, stage of breast cancer and the amount of tissue available on the body all impact surgery options,” Dr. Baker says.
According the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, women should plan on four to six weeks of recovery, depending on the type of reconstruction (this may vary for men).
“Recovery from any surgery is not uniform for all patients, and breast reconstruction often involves more than one procedure,” he says. “But our goal is always to help the patient get back to her normal life as quickly as possible.”