With breast reconstruction, emotional readiness is as important as physical readiness. If a woman loses a breast to a trauma or accident, she may have to prioritize other injuries or physical issues. With cancer patients, some want to start the process during the initial mastectomy while others prefer to wait until they are officially in remission. Still more women may not see reconstruction as a priority, or don’t want to go through additional surgery. Women who had their initial breast surgery years ago, when reconstruction was not as common or advanced as it is today, may still be finding out about their options. Take your time and do what’s right for you. Most importantly, do it for yourself, not because your friend made a similar choice, or your partner is pressuring you, or you feel it’s “the next step.” Only you can know when you are ready for reconstructive surgery.
Timing Is on Your Side
If you need reconstruction now or are about to have a mastectomy or lumpectomy, it may be helpful to talk to a plastic surgeon. He or she can advise you about reconstruction options based on your goals, preferences, body type, general health, risk factors and biopsy results, if applicable. Both immediate and delayed reconstruction have their pros and cons.
- Immediate Reconstruction begins during the actual mastectomy. It offers the psychological and aesthetic advantage of waking from the initial surgery with a visible breast shape and reconstruction well underway. Immediate reconstruction achieves the best cosmetic results since it maximizes the preservation of skin and tissue. However, some women might not be ready because of the severity of their cancer.
- Delayed Reconstruction is a good option for women who have already had a mastectomy or have an extremely advanced cancer and need urgent combination treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Delayed breast reconstruction generally yields a slightly less aesthetic result than immediate reconstruction. It may not be the best option if the idea of being without a breast for an extended period of time is too emotionally stressful.
The important thing to remember is that it’s not too late to have reconstructive breast surgery, even if it’s been years since your mastectomy. The first step is to talk to a physician.
Choosing a Surgeon
Plastic surgeons are trained specifically in reconstructing tissue to improve cosmetic appearance. Your plastic surgeon should be a member of ASPS, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
All ASPS Member Surgeons share the following important qualifications:
- At least five years of surgical training, including a minimum of two years in plastic surgery
- Training and experience in all plastic surgery procedures, including breast, body, and facial reconstruction
- Operating only in accredited medical facilities
- Adhering to a strict code of ethics
- Fulfilling continuing medical education requirements
- Board-certification by The American Board of Plastic Surgery®
Just because a surgeon has met these core competencies does not make that doctor an expert in breast reconstruction. Look for a surgeon who is experienced specifically in breast reconstruction and oncoplastics and can show photos of their results.
El Camino Hospital works with many well-trained, expert surgeons with a variety of skill sets. We can help you find a doctor with whom you will be comfortable.