5 Do’s and Don’ts for Your Breast Reconstruction
Following a major surgical procedure like a mastectomy, breast reconstruction surgery can help restore the appearance, symmetry, and feel of the removed breast tissue. This is good news for many people, but there are several factors you should consider if you’re thinking of having breast reconstruction. You’ll want to think about goals, understand risks, know your recovery plan, consider the timing, and choose the right surgeon.
More than 100,000 people in the United States had breast reconstruction surgery in 2018. These surgeries are intended to help restore the size, shape, symmetry, and feel of breast tissue to as close to normal as possible following a surgery like mastectomy or lumpectomy. If you’re considering breast reconstruction, it’s helpful to think about certain do’s and don’ts. You can talk about these issues with your doctor, who can help you decide if reconstruction is right for you.
The decision to undergo breast reconstruction is extremely personal. The procedure often affects people emotionally as well as physically. There are many reasons you may choose to have reconstruction. The decision could be functional — you may want to avoid wearing a breast form prosthesis, or maybe you’d like your clothing to fit better. It could also be appearance-related. Perhaps you want to feel better about your body, make your chest look balanced, or permanently regain your breast shape.
For most, however, it’s not just about appearance — breast reconstruction is also about restoring self-esteem and developing a more positive body self-image.
It can be tempting to want reconstruction surgery as soon as possible following a major procedure like a mastectomy. In some cases, it is actually possible to have both surgeries performed at the same time — a surgeon performs the mastectomy, then places breast implants while the patient is still in the operating room.
For others, reconstruction cannot happen immediately and must be delayed. Your doctor may suggest delaying reconstruction because:
- further medical treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, are necessary
- you need to have tissue expanders placed first to create pockets big enough for implants
- you’re just not sure reconstruction is right for you
Breast reconstruction can be delayed for years if necessary, giving you the chance to complete any other treatments and decide if you truly want the surgery. Be sure to ask your doctor whether delaying reconstruction is a good idea.
Like any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with breast reconstruction. Complications like bleeding, infection, and wound healing problems are possible, along with other risks linked to breast implants themselves. You may experience loss of sensation, implant rupture, fatigue, rash, muscle or joint pain, or “brain fog.” In rare cases, breast implants may cause the development of a certain type of cancer involving your immune system.
Because breast reconstruction is a major surgery, you shouldn’t rely on a general surgeon to perform the procedure. Instead, be sure to look for a doctor who is board certified in plastic surgery. Board-certified plastic surgeons undergo rigorous training and must pass demanding oral and written examinations in order to practice. They must also commit to continuing their education throughout their career so that they are on top of the latest practice guidelines and recommendations. Once you’ve identified a board-certified plastic surgeon, ask them how often they perform breast reconstruction surgeries. If they only perform a few each year, look for someone who has more experience with the procedure.
You’ll likely be admitted to your local hospital for several days following your breast reconstruction surgery. Breast reconstruction follow-up is extremely important to monitor for signs of infection or other problems that could compromise your results. Be sure to ask your doctor questions about the plan for your recovery, such as:
- How long will it take for the bruising and swelling to go away?
- What signs should I watch for that might indicate a problem?
- When can I go home after the reconstruction?
- When can I start wearing regular bras again?
- Which exercises and other activities should I avoid, and for how long, after surgery?
- Will I need additional follow-up tests to make sure there are no problems with my reconstructed breasts?
Focusing on a few of these tips can be a good place to start if you’re thinking about having the procedure. There’s a lot to consider before you go into surgery, so take the time to really think about your options, risks, and treatment plan. Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have, since the information can help you decide when and if breast reconstruction surgery is a good choice for you.