Yes, you have a choice. Many women never ask about the plastic surgeon and assume that their oncologist or the hospital will assign one to them. This is the often the case, but not the rule. Choosing the right surgeon for your reconstruction is as important as choosing your oncologist.
It is highly recommended that the plastic surgeon be board-certified, through the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). You should also confirm with your insurance company whether the surgeon is in-network or out-of-network as this will have an impact on your coverage. Your hospital may have resources to help choose the right surgeon, as might your oncologist. If you are part of a cancer support group, talk to the other women who have already gone through the process. Some of the best referrals are from patients who have been there and done that.
It’s important to understand that breast reconstruction results will vary, depending on the type of breast surgery you’ve had, the form of reconstruction you choose, and the skills and techniques of your breast surgeon. Regardless of the surgeon’s skills, most likely:
- A reconstructed breast will not have the same sensation and feel as the breast it replaces.
- Visible incision lines will always be present on the breast, whether from reconstruction or the mastectomy.
- Autologous reconstruction will leave scars at the donor tissue sites, located in less exposed areas of the body such as the back, abdomen or buttocks.
Ask the Plastic Surgeon Questions
It’s very important to get all of your questions answered by your plastic surgeon before having breast reconstruction. If you don’t understand something, ask your surgeon about it. Here’s a list compiled by the American Cancer Society. Write down other questions as you think of them.
Can I have breast reconstruction?
When can I have reconstruction done?
What types of reconstruction could I have?
What’s the average cost of each type? Will my insurance cover them?
What type of reconstruction do you think would be best for me? Why?
How many of these procedures have you (plastic surgeon) done?
What results can I expect?
Will the reconstructed breast match my other breast?
How will my reconstructed breast feel to the touch?
Will I have any feeling in my reconstructed breast?
What possible problems should I know about?
Will there be pain, scars, or other changes in the parts of my body the tissue is taken from (if using a tissue flap)?
How much discomfort or pain will I feel?
How long will I be in the hospital?
Will I need blood transfusions?
How long will it take me to recover?
What will I need to do at home to care for my incisions (surgical wounds)?
Will I have a drain (tube that lets fluid out of the wound) when I go home?
How much help will I need at home to take care of my drain and wound?
Will I be taught exercises to do after surgery? When can I start them?
How much activity can I do at home?
What do I do if my arm swells? (This is called lymphedema.)
When will I be able to go back to normal activities such as driving and working?
Can I talk with other women who have had the same surgery?
Will reconstruction interfere with chemotherapy?
Will reconstruction interfere with radiation therapy?
How long will the implant last?
What kinds of changes to the breast can I expect over time?
How will aging affect the reconstructed breast?
What happens if I gain or lose weight?
Are there any new reconstruction options that I should know about, including clinical trials?
I bet you have a lot of questions. Here are a few of that most patients ask.
Other excellent resources