You’ve struggled with breast cancer. You’ve either scheduled or had a mastectomy. You may have already dealt with chemotherapy, radiation, or any other combination of cancer treatments.
Breast reconstruction should be easy by this point, right?
Not necessarily. Breast reconstruction is a complicated procedure that requires a lot of thought regarding your personal situation and desires. Being nervous, or even fearful, about breast reconstruction is a normal thing for many women.
As you likely already know, breast reconstruction is a type of surgery that can be extensive. And honestly, who isn’t nervous or scared about getting surgery?
However, how many of your fears and concerns are based in myth rather than reality?
In this article, we will discuss some of the common myths about breast reconstruction to help give you the most accurate idea of the procedure as possible.
Myth #1: I Can’t Get Breast Reconstruction Because I Haven’t Had a Mastectomy
This is a complete myth.
Breast reconstruction is available for women who have had either a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. While there may be some limitations based on your medical history or general health, the procedure that you choose will not disqualify you from getting breast reconstruction if you want it.
Several different types of breast reconstruction are available. This allows more and more women to be eligible for the procedure than in the past. Even minor alterations, such as those following a small lumpectomy, are still possible for most women.
Myth #2: I Can Only Get Artificial Breast Implants if I Have Breast Reconstruction
For some women, this might be true. But for the majority, this is yet another myth.
There are a huge range of breast reconstruction options available and the scientific world continues to develop new ones. Autologous breast reconstruction takes tissue from elsewhere on your body and moves it to the breast. There are several different types of autologous reconstruction that might be an option for you.
You can read more about autologous reconstruction here
There are several benefits and drawbacks of both procedures depending on your situation and preferences, but at least you have a few options. You may also be eligible for fat grafting.
Myth #3: I Have to Wait Several Months After My Mastectomy to Get Breast Reconstruction
Some women may hold the opposite belief: that breast reconstruction must be done during a mastectomy. Regardless, both ideas are largely myths.
Breast reconstruction can be done as either an immediate, delayed, or staged procedure. Immediate breast reconstruction is done during a mastectomy after the cancer is removed. It often has improved cosmetic results because it saves breast skin and reduces scarring. Not to mention, it allows you to avoid having to go back in for another surgery.
Delayed reconstruction is done after you’ve healed from the initial mastectomy. There is no limit to how long you can wait following your mastectomy. Some women get delayed breast reconstruction as soon as possible. But, you might decide to wait a few months or even years before deciding that breast reconstruction is right for you.
Staged reconstruction is a sort of mix between the two. With this timing option, tissue expanders are placed in for a time before the breast is finally reconstructed, to maintain the shape of the breast. These expanders may be placed during your mastectomy or after the skin has already healed.
Unfortunately, not every women is a candidate for all of these procedure timings. So, in a sense, the myth is partially true. In most cases, though, you will have your choice when it comes to the different timing options.
Myth #4: I Have Had Chemotherapy or Radiation, So I Cannot Get Breast Reconstruction
This is sort of two myths combined into one, but the general idea is the same: women can’t get breast reconstruction depending on a previous or upcoming treatment. I’m sure you’ve already noticed the pattern here, but just to be sure, this, also, is a myth.
Similar to our first myth, radiation, chemotherapy, or other treatments do not automatically disqualify you from getting breast reconstruction. Based on your individual situation; however, they might be a contributing factor.
Both radiation and chemotherapy significantly affect the body. As such, they can affect the timing options and breast reconstruction types that are available to you. Radiation therapy often causes higher complication rates in women who have had reconstruction with implants. To combat this, you might be better suited for autologous reconstruction. In some cases, you may also be unable to have immediate reconstruction because of your past or future involvement with radiation therapy. Regardless, radiation alone does not make you ineligible for breast reconstruction, but it can create limitations.
Chemotherapy creates similar limitations due to the fact that it delays healing. Again, reconstruction might be delayed due to your need or chemotherapy. However, you might also be able to get reconstruction and have chemotherapy delayed until you have healed. I know we’ve said it a lot, but it really depends on your individual situation.
Myth #5: I Am Too Old For Breast Reconstruction
Your healing time and overall risks associated with surgery can change as you get older, but the idea that age by itself removes breast reconstruction as an option entirely is a myth.
Breast reconstruction is about a lot of things: improving your quality of life, taking back your own identity, or improving sexual health. All of these things continue to be important regardless of your age. Your general health plays a bigger role than your age does when it comes to closing off breast reconstruction. Women who are in good health even over the age of 50 can still be great candidates for breast reconstruction.
Myth #6: I Will Look Unnatural After Getting Breast Reconstruction
In the early days of breast reconstruction, perhaps this was true for most women. But with the ever-evolving technology that is available now, this is primarily a myth.
There is some credence to this belief. Underneath all the clothes, certain breast reconstruction options, particularly those using breast implants, may look less realistic. This is particularly true for women who have had a single mastectomy. If your nipples weren’t able to be spared, your breasts will look less realistic (although 3D nipple tattoos are helping many women’s breasts to appear very realistic).
Fortunately, in everyday life, your reconstructed breasts will most likely appear natural. Plus, you may be able to have your remaining breast slightly altered to appear more symmetrical to your reconstructed breast. This makes your breasts look more similar to one another and more natural.
Myth #7: I Need Just One Reconstruction Surgery
Sadly, in most cases, this is also a myth.
Typically, you will need a few procedures before your breast reconstruction is entirely complete. This depends on everything from the type of reconstruction you have and your individual recovery to your overall goals. When you discuss your initial breast reconstruction procedure, also take the time to discuss any additional procedures you might need.
Often times, additional procedures are needed for either healing or cosmetic problems. There are a few complications associated with all types of reconstruction that may result in another procedure. Further, if you are unhappy with the appearance of your reconstructed breast, you might want to do another surgery to get a more appealing look.
You can find hope in the fact that new techniques are being developed all the time. For example, a new device used in tissue expansion eliminates the need for repeat injections of saline into tissue expanders.
Some women are fine with just one procedure, so always make sure to discuss your personal situation with your surgeon.
Myth #8: Breast Reconstruction Makes It Harder if My Cancer Returns
Cancer recurrence is a scary thing and it is normal to be concerned about any potential role breast reconstruction might play in possible recurrence. However, it is a myth that breast reconstruction makes recurrence more difficult to detect or more likely to occur.
There are a huge range of factors that may increase your risk of recurrence, including biological characteristics and your stage of cancer. Fortunately, there is no evidence that breast reconstruction increases your risk of recurrence.
Similarly, breast reconstruction does not make it more difficult to detect or treat breast cancer recurrence. If you have a high risk of recurrence, some reconstruction options might not be available to you. The reason for this is because certain screenings or exams can be affected to some degree by some types of breast reconstruction. But, in most cases, your physicians will work around the reconstruction option you desire.
These are just some of the common myths women hold about breast reconstruction. There are likely plenty more out there that women have heard. If you think breast reconstruction is right for you, always talk to your physicians. Discuss what options are available to you, the role they may play in your future exams or treatments, and how your recovery might be different. Your physicians are your best source of information because they know all about your individual situation.