This month—and every day of our lives—we remember the over 42,000 women who lose their battle with breast cancer every year, and celebrate the brave survivors who have battled this deadly disease and won their fight. For many women who beat breast cancer, survival comes after a very personal, identity changing event. In 2014, 35.1 women per 100,000 elected to have reconstructive breast surgery after a mastectomy. While the individual reasons women choose reconstructive surgery vary, what is crucial is that women have options to help them recover after the physically and emotionally challenging experience of breast cancer.
If you or someone you love has to make the difficult decision of whether or not to elect reconstruction, continue reading for more information about the choices available.
Breast Reconstruction Options
There are two primary reconstruction categories:
- Autologous or flap reconstruction that takes tissue from another area of the body (such as the stomach, thigh, or back) to create a breast
- Implant reconstruction in which a silicone or saline implant is inserted
In some cases, an implant and flap may be used together.
Nipple and Areola Options
As part of the reconstruction process, you will also need to decide if you want to reconstruct your nipples and areola. If you are a nipple-sparing mastectomy candidate, your nipple and the surrounding breast skin are preserved and reattached. As an alternative, you may be able to consider nipple and areola tattooing or nipple reconstruction.
With nipple and areola tattooing, the three-dimensional simulation of a nipple is tattooed onto the skin using colored ink. While the skin remains flat, your breast will appear to have a nipple and areola in the center.
In nipple reconstruction surgery, your surgeon will either:
- Raise flaps of tissue on the reconstructed breast and sew them together to make a nipple shape
- Transfer a portion of the opposite nipple the reconstructed breast and eventually tattoo a full areola shape on the area
Reconstruction After Partial Mastectomy or Lumpectomy
Some women do not need to have their entire breast (or breasts) removed to remove their cancer. In the event or a partial mastectomy, in which part of the breast is removed, or a lumpectomy in which only the malignancy is removed, the breast may become misshapen. In these cases, the woman may be a candidate for a process that combines cancer and plastic surgery techniques. This process is known as oncoplastic surgery. During this process, the surgeon will reshape the breast using such methods and tools as:
- Smaller implants
- Fat grafting
- A breast reduction
- A breast lift
- Revision of scar
- Smaller tissue flaps
Deciding Which Breast Reconstruction Option is Right for You
If you are a candidate for breast reconstructive surgery, talk to your doctor. They will present the options available and help you decide what is best, depending on the details of your mastectomy and potential ongoing risk factors.
Most importantly, remember that your friends and family love you, and just as they supported you throughout your diagnosis and treatment, they will support you whether you decide on reconstruction or not. The right decision will always be the choice that helps you feel like the most genuine and complete version of yourself.