Breast Cancer Support: Breast Reconstruction

As no specific method of prevention of breast cancer has yet been discovered, early detection remains the first tool in the arsenal of breast cancer support. Everyone has probably heard the recommendations that women have annual or bi-annual mammograms, undergo routine physical examinations, and provide self-examinations monthly. While the safety of too many mammograms is under debate, their effective use in detecting the cancerous property of a tumor is undeniable.

One of the most common treatments for breast cancer is a full or segmental mastectomy, depending upon the extent of the disease when it is detected. These procedures involve removing all of the breast or only the cancerous portion followed by therapy to kill and prevent the growth of any remaining cancerous tissue. There are other risks associated with all surgical procedures and only the patient and her physician can decide what will be the right breast cancer support for her case.

Mastectomy and Breast Reconstruction

A valuable complementary procedure to a mastectomy is breast reconstruction to simulate the removed breast contour (see Prosthetics under Products 101 in the menu) and in some cases, even the nipple and areola. While a reconstructed breast can never have the natural sensation of the original, it can look perfectly normal and help a patient feel better about themselves, and that is a very important aspect of breast cancer support. It doesn’t interfere with radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or other future treatments; it does not increase the risk of recurrence of or impede the detection of a recurrence of breast cancer.

Breast reconstruction can sometimes be performed as a one-stage process with the mastectomy. However, it is often the case that an implant is required to augment the existing tissue to achieve a breast that matches the size of the remaining one. In such situations, a section of skin, fat, muscle, and blood vessels from one part of the body must be transferred from another part of the body to the chest to create the new breast mound. Sometimes a tissue expander is placed in the space and the reconstruction is delayed for healing. The expander is then replaced by an implant.

After breast reconstruction surgery, the recovery time is about six to eight weeks with the typical surgical risks of bleeding and infection. It may take up to two years for tissues to heal. Some scars will never go completely away.

The Breast Conserving Lumpectomy

Often called breast-conserving surgery as the surgeon removes part of the breast containing the tumor (or “lump”) and a bit of the normal surrounding tissue. This is usually followed by five to seven weeks of radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. About 50 percent of women are suitable for a lumpectomy depending upon the type of tumor, its size, and location. The risk of recurrence of cancer after a lumpectomy is about 10 to 15 percent.

There are other risks associated with all surgical procedures, and only the patient and her physician can decide what will be the right breast cancer support for her case.