Preparing for Breast Reconstruction
Reconstruction has no known effect on the recurrence of disease in the breast, nor does it generally interfere with chemotherapy or radiation treatment, should cancer recur. Your surgeon may recommend continuation of periodic mammograms on both the reconstructed and the remaining normal breast. If your reconstruction involves an implant, be sure to go to a radiology center where technicians are experienced in the special techniques required to get a reliable x-ray of a breast reconstructed with an implant.
Women who postpone reconstruction may go through a period of emotional readjustment. Just as it took time to get used to the loss of a breast, a woman may feel anxious and confused as she begins to think of the reconstructed breast as her own.
Planning Your Surgery
You can begin talking about reconstruction as soon as you’re diagnosed with cancer. Ideally, you’ll want your breast surgeon and your plastic surgeon to work together to develop a strategy that will put you in the best possible condition for reconstruction.
After evaluating your health, your surgeon will explain which reconstructive options are most appropriate for your:
- Personal goals
Be sure to discuss your expectations frankly with your surgeon. He or she should be equally frank with you, describing your options and the risks and
limitations of each. Post-mastectomy reconstruction can improve your appearance and renew your self-confidence. But, keep in mind that the desired result is improvement, not perfection.
Your surgeon should also explain the anesthesia he or she will use, the facility where surgery will be performed, and the costs. In most cases, health insurance policies will cover most or all of the cost of post-mastectomy reconstruction. Check your policy to make sure you’re covered and to see if there are any limitations on what types of reconstruction are covered.
Preparing For Your Surgery
Your oncologist and your plastic surgeon will give your specific instructions on how to prepare for surgery, including guidelines on eating and drinking, smoking and taking or avoiding certain vitamins and medications.
While making preparations, be sure to arrange for someone to drive you home after your surgery and to help you out for a few days, if needed.
Where Your Surgery Will Be Performed
Breast reconstruction usually involves more than one operation. The first stage, whether done at the same time as the mastectomy or later on, is usually performed in a hospital. Follow-up procedures may also be done in the hospital. Or, depending on the extent of surgery required, your surgeon may prefer an outpatient facility.
Types of Anesthesia
The first stage of reconstruction, creation of the breast mound, is almost always performed using general anesthesia, so you’ll sleep through the entire operation. Follow-up procedures may require only a local anesthesia, combined with a sedative to make you drowsy. You’ll be awake but relaxed, and may feel some discomfort.
Types of Implants
If your surgeon recommends the use of an implant you’ll want to discuss what type of implant should be used. A breast implant is a silicone shell filled with either silicone gel or a salt-water solution known as saline.
Because of concerns that there is insufficient information demonstrating the safety of silicone gel-filled breast implants, the Food & Drug Administration had determined that new gel-filled implants should be available only to women participating in approved studies. This currently includes women who already have tissue expanders (see below under Skin Expansion), who choose immediate reconstruction after mastectomy, or who already have a gel-filled implant and need it replaced for medical reasons. Eventually, all patients with appropriate medical indications may have similar access to silicone gel-filled implants.
The alternative saline-filled implant, a silicone shell filled with salt water, continues to be available on an unrestricted basis, pending further FDA review.
As more information becomes available, these FDA guidelines may change. Be sure to discuss current options with your surgeon. (Above guidelines are current as of July 1992).