woman after mastectomy

Life After Breast Cancer

What questions should I ask about breast reconstruction surgery following a mastectomy?

Worldwide, more than 2 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. In the U.S., 1 out of 8 women will struggle with this pervasive cancer some time during her lifetime. Just this year alone, it is expected to take the lives of nearly 44,000 American women. 

Those are frightening and horrible numbers. And, yet, there is actually something very hopeful in today’s breast cancer statistics. The mortality rates for women in the U.S. with breast cancer had been steadily increasing through the 1980s, but, based on the most recent data, the period from 1989 to 2018 has recorded a 41 percent decrease in breast cancer mortality. 

41 percent! Put another way, based on these statistics, more than 400,000 women are alive today who would not be had this shift not been made.  

Early detection and improvements in the treatment of breast cancer have made a world of difference. A lot of the credit for the heightened awareness and focus on this devastating disease goes to that familiar pink ribbon we see everywhere during October and the Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities sponsored by the Susan G. Komen organization. Little did Nancy Brinker realize the difference her promise to her sister, Susan, would make. Susan lost her battle to breast cancer, but many have not, thanks to the organization that bears her name.  

Life After Breast Cancer

Being diagnosed with any type of cancer has to be high on the list of “life’s worst moments” for anyone. On top of all of the decisions to be made and simply managing to get through what is often debilitating treatment regimens, there are emotional reactions to deal with. For women with breast cancer, once the treatment has been deemed a success and the fear of death has passed, there is often the question of how best to face life after the loss of one or both breasts. 

Breast Reconstruction

It is important to know that there are actually several options available to women following a mastectomy. While it is probably safe to say most women will experience this as a major decision, not all will choose the same path. At this point in time, most women opt for some sort of reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy, but not all do. Some women are comfortable with how they look following the removal of their cancer and opt to do nothing. Others choose one of the different types of prosthesis or breast forms. It is an entirely personal decision, including the option of changing your mind at some future date and deciding to have breast reconstruction surgery done. 

When the choice is made to have reconstruction surgery done after a mastectomy, there are still other decisions to be made. The first will be whether to have the reconstruction started at the same time as the mastectomy, referred to as immediate reconstruction, or to have delayed construction that begins with a separate surgery at a later date. 

There will also be the decision about whether to use implants as part of the reconstruction or to have autologous reconstruction. The latter is also called “flap” reconstruction and is performed using tissue taken from another part of the body that is then formed into the proper shape. 

These are only some of the decisions to be made when considering breast reconstruction surgery. Trying to work your way through them can seem overwhelming, especially during what has to have been an extremely stressful and emotional time. It’s important to do as much research as you can, and, if possible, talk to other women who have gone through the same experience. 

One of the most important steps in this process is to find a highly skilled and experienced plastic surgeon with whom you feel you can openly discuss, not only all of your options but who will listen to your concerns and answer your questions. Once you get to this point, you should be far more confident in making a decision that will help you move on to better times ahead! 

Dr. Brian D. Cohen is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon with extensive training in cosmetic/reconstructive plastic surgery and has had years of experience performing a wide array of cosmetic surgery procedures, specializing in procedures of the face, eyes, nose, breast, and body and is known for his exemplary and compassionate care by his patients. Knowing that Dr. Cohen has been selected by his peers in Super Doctors for 9 years in a row in 2021 gives you the confidence that he is highly respected for his performance in his specialty.

Information on locations and office hours for Cohen Plastic Surgery can be found by clicking here