As a nurse practitioner in the department of plastic and reconstruction surgery – a division of head and neck surgery– I work very closely with our surgeons and breast cancer patients. In honor of BRA-Day (Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day) I want to educate you about your options, and the benefits of breast reconstruction.
What is Breast Reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction surgery is the creation of the mound of the breast and the nipple and areolar complex after a mastectomy. Breast reconstruction is also done after breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy) to help create symmetry after treatment, when the treated breast may be smaller or have shape changes due to the treatment. The final results of breast reconstruction can help lessen the physical and emotional impact of a mastectomy or lumpectomy and improve overall quality of life.
What to Expect?
With any surgery there are risks of bleeding, infection and scarring, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. We don’t do anything that would interfere with your treatment regimen. Breast reconstruction can begin at the same time as a mastectomy – eliminating an additional surgery –or it can be delayed until you heal from a mastectomy and recover from any additional cancer treatments. The process takes about a year to see the final result. It entails several plastic surgery techniques to restore a breast to near normal shape, appearance and size.
What is the Result?
A reconstructed breast differs from a natural breast due to lack of sensation and erectile function of the nipple. It can also seem dense and heavy at first if you choose to have implants. But over time, some breast sensation may return, and scar lines will improve. As you acclimate to the change, you will develop a new normal and become comfortable and happy with the results. It’s important that you feel ready for the emotional adjustment involved in breast reconstruction. It may take some time to accept the results but the benefits can be very rewarding.
Ann Marie Bauer is no longer employed at Roswell Park.