Reconstruction after breast cancer surgery

New choices reduce psychological as well as physical scars.

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey.com contributor

June 22, 2010


Just learning that you have breast cancer can cause severe emotional distress.

Research by Mark T. Hegel, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center of Dartmouth Medical School and his colleagues found that of the 236 women who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer, half met clinically significant criteria for emotional distress or a psychiatric disorder.

Other studies have shown that significant emotional distress affects up to one-third of breast cancer survivors for up to 20 years after treatment.

According to Breast-Plastic-Surgery.org, breast reconstruction can help address the emotional issues of loss, fear, insecurity, anxiety and depression that are frequently associated with post mastectomy patients.

New breast conservation and breast reconstruction methods allow you to at least retain your natural-looking profile, if not your entire breast, and can help you regain your sense of well being.

Breast Conservation Surgery

Breast conservation surgery (a.k.a. lumpectomy, segmental excision, limited breast surgery, or partial or segmental mastectomy) is a strategy in which the surgeon removes a breast cancer plus a small area of normal tissue around the cancer, but doesn't remove any other part of the breast. The lymph nodes under the arm may be removed, and the patient may receive radiation therapy, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Breast Reconstruction

Breast implants and flaps are two of the more natural-looking reconstruction choices for women who've had a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). Your breast reconstruction should be performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon to ensure that you will have the best possible result.

Implants are made with silicone, saline or a combination of the two. According to the ACS, some implants may be inserted immediately following the mastectomy. Others require waiting until later, such as when the patient's skin and chest wall tissues require stretching or if radiation is required.

Drawbacks to implants include breakage, infection, pain and the possible formation of scar tissue around the implant. Also, you may not like the way the implant looks. Any of these problems may result in additional surgery to remove or replace the implant.

Tissue flaps, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, are constructed by highly-skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeons who specialize in microsurgery. They create the new breast by transplanting tissue taken from elsewhere in the body (abdomen, back, buttocks or thighs). Older flap techniques carry greater health risks than newer techniques, so Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends seeking surgeons who are capable of performing the new flap techniques if flaps are your reconstruction choice.

For more information visit Breast-Plastic-Surgery.org and the American Cancer Society.