Breast cancer is a fairly common health risk among women and there is a chance of losing one or both breasts. For those lucky enough to survive the condition, breast reconstruction is a great way to rebuild the body. Reconstructive breast surgery can help replace one or both breasts that were removed via mastectomy or restore their symmetry by transferring the patient’s own tissues into the chest area.
Although breast reconstruction offers a lot of benefits to a breast cancer patient, there are still those who refuse to undergo the surgery due to the many myths and misconceptions about the procedure:
- It must be performed immediately after a mastectomy – It is up to the patient and her physician whether or not to undergo breast reconstruction immediately after a mastectomy. There is no right time to have it done although immediate reconstruction has its advantages. These advantages include less visible scars, preservation of the breast skin and a faster recovery because it doesn’t require a separate surgery for the reconstruction. Delayed reconstruction can be performed months, or even years, after a mastectomy. Women often opt for this if they are not certain about having a reconstruction done. Patients who are undergoing radiation therapy are required to wait until their treatment is completed. Radiation can affect the final results and can also limit the patient’s options for reconstruction.
- It requires the use of breast implants – While most women qualify for using implants in a breast reconstruction procedure, it is not the only option. It is just one of the ways a plastic surgeon can offer to restore lost breast tissue. The other method is autologous tissue transfer which makes use of the patient’s own skin, fat and muscle gathered from other parts of the body such as the abdomen, back, thighs or butt. A combination of implants and autologous tissue produces much better results compared to either of the two alone. Each method has specific indications, contraindications, advantages and disadvantages that need to be discussed with a plastic surgeon.
- It requires multiple surgeries – Breast reconstruction surgery is a bit more complex than augmentation surgery. In the former, multiple surgeries are required to achieve the desired outcome. Assuming that a mastectomy has been done, the first phase of the reconstructive surgery involves the placement of tissue expanders in the chest area. They expand slowly to create space for the new breasts. Once there is adequate space, the second phase of the reconstruction commences. In this phase, the expanders are removed and breast implants or body tissues are inserted into the space. The third phase is when the nipple reconstruction is done. This is optional and some women opt to not undergo this phase.
- It increases the risk of breast cancer happening again – It is perfectly understandable for a cancer survivor to worry about recurrence. Nonetheless, studies have shown that breast reconstruction does not increase the risk of additional breast cancer nor does it make the detection and treatment of the disease more difficult. Reconstruction won’t make cancer come back. A patient’s risk for recurrence depends on several factors including the stage of the cancer and its biological characteristics.
- It causes loss of sensation in the breast area – During a mastectomy, the small nerves in the skin that provide sensation to the breast are severed. This results in the loss of sensation over most parts of the breast. However, these nerves can still heal and regenerate if breast reconstruction is done immediately. The amount of sensation regained after the operation varies. Oftentimes, it comes back mostly on the upper, lower and outer parts of the breast. Those who used autologous tissue for reconstruction gain more sensation compared to those who had implants because the patient’s own tissue is used and the nerve endings in the chest connect with that of the flap.
- Reconstructed breasts look and feel unnatural – Breast reconstruction does not produce the same results in every patient. The outcome depends on a number of factors including the tissues of the patient, the method of reconstruction and the skill and expertise of the surgeon who performs the operation. If properly done, both implants and autologous tissue can produce results that look and feel very natural. In fact, the procedure has become so advanced that most patients who have had breast reconstruction have breasts that look and feel more or less the same as natural breasts.