Ask WVU Medicine: Breast reconstruction after mastectomy

Ask WVU Medicine: Breast reconstruction after mastectomy
Dr. Cristiane Ueno

Nearly a quarter of a million women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Many will have their breast or breasts removed as treatment, and many will choose breast reconstruction. Plastic and reconstructive surgeon Cristiane Ueno, MD, discusses the basics about breast reconstruction.

What is breast reconstruction?
It’s a surgical procedure used to rebuild the size and shape of a breast for women who have had all or part of a breast removed.

How is it performed?
Breast reconstruction is achieved through several plastic surgeries, and it can be done with saline or silicone implants; tissue flaps using skin, fat, and, sometimes, muscle from your own body; or a combination of these two methods. One of the methods WVU Medicine offers is DIEP flap reconstruction, which uses a patient’s own tissue without sacrificing muscle function.

It’s important to understand that although breast reconstruction can rebuild a breast, results may vary. There is a change in the sensation and feel of the breast, and surgery will leave scars on the breast and any areas where tissue was moved to create the new breast mound.

When should you get breast reconstruction?
Reconstruction can begin at the same time of breast removal or it can be delayed until all cancer treatment is finished. Breast reconstruction can also be done many months or even years after mastectomy. Many women choose immediate reconstruction to reduce the overall number of surgeries. The key element is to feel ready for the emotional adjustment of a breast reconstruction and remember that it may take some time to accept the results.

What are the benefits?
Breast reconstruction may improve your self-image, self-confidence, and quality of life. You’ll regain breast shape and avoid having to use an external prosthesis.

What are the risks?
When undergoing any surgery, there are potential risks. Your plastic surgeon will discuss your possible risks with you during your appointment. Risks may include bleeding, scarring, infection, poor healing of incisions, breast implant firmness or rupture, and a loss of sensation in the tissue donor and reconstructed areas.

How much does breast reconstruction cost?
The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 requires group health and individual health insurance to cover all stages of reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy.

What should I ask my doctor?
Ask your medical team the following questions and more to help you decide if reconstruction is the best option for you.

  • Am I a good candidate for this procedure?
  • What surgical technique is recommended for me?
  • How long will recovery take?
  • What are the risks and complications related to my procedure?
  • What are my options if I am dissatisfied with my outcomes?
  • What results are reasonable for me to expect?

Wednesday, October 18 is Dine Out for BRA Day or Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. Several area restaurants will donate a portion of their profits to help uninsured patients with breast reconstruction costs.

Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE