In this blog, our Information Development Nurse Teri talks through some of the options for breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.
Having a diagnosis of breast cancer can be hard enough, without the added stress of being asked to choose between treatments. Surgery is usually the first treatment for breast cancer. For some people, a mastectomy (removing all the breast tissue) is recommended instead of breast conserving surgery (when only part of the breast is removed). If a mastectomy is recommended, you will usually be offered breast reconstruction surgery.
What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is when you have surgery to make a breast shape. The new breast shape can be made with:
Your surgeon will talk to you about the types of reconstruction that are most suitable for you.
Breast reconstruction may be done at the same time as a mastectomy. This is called immediate reconstruction. Or it can be done as a second operation months or sometimes years later. This is called delayed reconstruction. Breast reconstruction may not be suitable for everyone. This is because some medical conditions might increase the risk of complications during and after surgery. Your surgeon or nurse can tell you more about this.
Thinking about having a breast reconstruction
Most people are focused on having the cancer removed, so it can feel overwhelming to also have to make a decision about having a breast reconstruction as well. Deciding whether to have breast reconstruction or when to have it will depend on your individual situation. You are the best person to know what feels right for you and it is important you feel happy with your decision.
Breast reconstruction is available on the NHS. It may be of interest to know the national guidelines say that anyone having a mastectomy should be offered the choice of either an immediate or delayed reconstruction, unless there is a medical reason why someone cannot have reconstructive surgery. The guidelines also say you should have access to all types of breast reconstruction. Some options may not be available at your local hospital. If the option most suitable for you is not available locally, you may need to be referred to another breast surgery unit.
Choosing to have a breast reconstruction
There are different reasons why someone may choose to have breast reconstruction. It will depend on the individual. You may choose to have a reconstruction so that you will not need to wear a false breast (breast prosthesis/form). Or you may feel that reconstruction will improve your confidence about how you look and feel about your body after breast surgery.
Choosing not to have a breast reconstruction
Others may not want to go through the additional surgery that breast reconstruction involves and may decide they feel comfortable wearing a breast prosthesis instead. If this is what you decide, you can talk to your breast care nurse about how to get fitted with a prosthesis.
Or you may choose not to have a reconstruction and also not to have a prosthesis. For some, losing their breast is something they feel they will be able to adapt to in time. If you decide to not have a reconstruction and stay flat, there is an organisation called Flat Friends UK that may be of interest. They support those who have had single or double mastectomy surgery without breast reconstruction, including those making decisions about breast surgery now or in the future.
Some may plan to have breast reconstruction, but then decide not to. Or they may not feel ready to have breast reconstruction until a while after surgery for breast cancer.
Talking to your breast surgeon about your options
It’s important to find out more about all the possible options to help make the right choice for you.
Your surgeon will advise you on the types of reconstruction that are most suitable for you and the possible benefits, limitations, and complications of breast reconstruction. You will need some time to think about all this before making your decision. You can discuss all the possible options with your surgeon and breast care nurse. It may also help to contact Breast Cancer Now’s Someone Like Me service. This service can put you in touch with someone who has had breast reconstruction surgery or also someone who has decided not to.
We have more information about breast reconstruction surgery, including the benefits and limitations of breast reconstruction on our website. You can also call Macmillan’s helpline on 0808 808 000. Or you may find Macmillan’s online community a helpful way to connect with others who have made or are making decisions about breast surgery.