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Understanding Options When It Comes to Breast Reconstruction

Kendra Y. Mims-Applewhite

Associate Editor, American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Breast cancer is the second-most common type of cancer among women in the United States, but only 23 percent of those facing the disease understand all of their treatment options — including their eligibility and legal right to coverage for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy.

Choosing to undergo breast reconstruction is extremely personal. Following surgical removal of the entirety of their breast tissue, some patients decide against further surgery, but many choose to undergo breast reconstruction as a means of restoring breast shape, appearance, and symmetry. 

Breast reconstruction typically involves multiple procedures performed in stages, and it can begin at the time of mastectomy or at a later date. The two primary plastic surgery techniques for reconstructing a breast are implant-based reconstruction and flap reconstruction, which uses the patient’s tissue from another part of the body, such as the back or lower abdomen, to restore form. 

There are several factors to consider when opting for breast reconstruction, such as cancer treatments, health status, type of mastectomy and body type. To that end, it’s important to learn about the techniques available, identify the pros and cons of each procedure, and discuss your options with a board-certified plastic surgeon. 

A breast cancer diagnosis is life-changing, and the side effects of treatment can take a toll. It’s not uncommon to experience a loss of sensation and numbness in the breast and chest post-mastectomy. Although a reconstructed breast will not have the same sensation as a natural breast, recent technological advancements in breast reconstruction, such as nerve reconstruction and nipple-sparing mastectomies, aim to preserve and improve sensation. Resensation, a surgical method of nerve repair performed during a flap reconstruction surgery, can restore feeling to the breast area by using allograft nerve tissue to reconnect the severed nerves in the chest to the reconstructed tissue. This innovative technique can help women feel more like themselves and boost their self-confidence and body image.

Breast reconstruction can improve a patient’s quality of life and provide emotional and physical healing during her breast cancer journey. For some, the procedure is a final step in treatment and offers a sense of closure. Although breast reconstruction may not be the right choice for everyone, everyone deserves to know their options so they can make an informed decision about their health. If you are considering breast reconstruction, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons offers a wealth of online resources, including a listing of board-certified plastic surgeons across the nation who can guide you through the process, recommend an individualized treatment plan and help determine the best reconstruction option for you.  

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