Only three in seven women get the chance to learn about reconstruction before they begin cancer treatment.
In the old days, general surgeons had the attitude that if they're saving a woman's life, she should be happy and not worry about anything else.
Today that attitude has shifted to a spirit of collaboration between general surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, and plastic surgeons.
It is important for the patient to seek out this collaboration if it is not recommended at the time of diagnosis.
A woman with a breast cancer diagnosis faces many sudden choices. Deciding whether to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy, and then choosing among oncologists and treatments -- chemotherapy, radiation, antibody infusions and possibly participating in a clinical trial -- involves a deluge of information. In the frenzied and emotionally-loaded period of a new illness needing treatment, the decision on reconstruction may not get the attention it deserves.
Medical insurance, by law, covers the costs of reconstruction.
Surgical techniques have also improved dramatically in recent years. More and more general surgeons are willing to perform skin and nipple-sparing mastectomies which yield better cosmetic results.
Reconstructive surgery can be performed immediately following the mastectomy reducing the number of surgeries. Also, when immediate breast reconstruction is performed, most of the breast skin is preserved to hold the implant or tissue flap. Even the best reconstruction can’t eliminate mastectomy scars, but when immediate reconstruction is performed, mastectomy incisions can often be camouflaged.
For women who don't undergo reconstruction, the options are slim: The standard prosthesis that Medicare will pay for is truly horrible.
Reconstruction provides simplicity in women's lives. After breast cancer, patients don't have to put on a body part every day, and they enjoy greater freedom.
Whether you decide on implants, saline or silicone, or to have a TRAM-flap or other grafting procedure, the decision should be active, and considered. Once you are fully informed and have the cooperation of your general and plastic surgeon you will be able to move forward with reconstruction, knowingly and eagerly, or choose to hold off, entirely. It's a matter of choice.
What to Expect from a Good Reconstruction.
From an aesthetic viewpoint, good reconstruction recreates the cleavage, projection, and soft contours of a woman’s natural breast. While individual features, like the structure of your chest and the elasticity of your skin, influence reconstruction, it’s worthwhile to choose your plastic surgeon carefully; his skill and experience has everything to do with your reconstructive outcome.
Dr. Overstreet, who has extensive experience in reconstructive breast surgery says, "The goal of breast reconstruction is to look perfectly normal in a bra or bathing suit". He always recommends that women talk to patients who have been through reconstructive surgery, and who can give a personal perspective that the surgeon can not. Here at Blue Ridge Plastic Surgery, in Hendersonville, North Carolina, we offer a patient mentoring program.
Here is a comprehensive Breast Reconstruction Awareness Website.