Helping Women Navigate Breast Reconstructive Surgery
For some women diagnosed with breast cancer, a total mastectomy (breast reconstructive surgery) is the best treatment option. Mastectomies pair with chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments.
Prophylactic, or preventative, mastectomies are also performed. In some of these cases, women don’t have cancer in either breast but are at high risk for developing it. They have a hereditary gene mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2. They reduce their cancer risk by removing both of their breasts.
Other women have a preventative mastectomy in an unaffected breast after having cancer in the other breast, especially if they have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. According to the Mayo Clinic, prophylactic mastectomies reduce the risk of breast cancer by 90 to 95%. A cancer risk remains because surgeons cannot remove all of the breast tissue during a mastectomy. Breast tissue is in the torso, including the armpit and above the collarbone.
After any type of mastectomy is performed, breast reconstructive surgery is an option.
Types of Breast Reconstructive Surgery
There are two methods of breast reconstruction. In the first method, reconstructing the breast with saline or silicone breast implants.
The second method is through the addition of an autologous skin flap. In skin flap reconstruction, the tissue is removed from elsewhere on the woman’s body, often the stomach, back, or buttocks. This tissue is then implanted into the breast.
Breast reconstructive surgery and mastectomy occur at the same time, or as a separate surgery. For some women, the timing of reconstructive surgery is up to them. Others must wait for medical reasons, including continuing cancer treatments.
Risks of Breast Reconstruction
As with all medical procedures, there are risks. There is the possibility of infection or the surgical site not healing properly. A reconstructed breast will not experience the same sensations, and will not feel the same to the touch. Even after reconstructive surgery, some women will still have uneven breasts.
Some of the risks depend on whether the surgery was performed with implants or an autologous tissue flap.
Saline or Silicone Breast Implants
The most common problem after saline or silicone breast implants is a capsular contracture when a scar forms around the implant. This scar will compress the implant and cause the breast to feel hard. Removing scar tissue treats capsular contractures. Removing or replacing the implant may also be needed.
Implants can also leak or rupture, requiring removal surgery. And over time, all breasts start to sag, including breasts with implants. Sagging can cause the implants to move around in the breasts.
Implants don’t last a lifetime. Most implants will last 10 to 20 years before needing removal or replacement. That means many women who chose implants will need to have additional surgery at some point.
Autologous Tissue Flaps
When autologous tissue flaps reconstruct a new breast, two incision sites remain: one at the breast and one from where the donor tissue was taken. Both sites may experience pain and discomfort after surgery. After insertion, the tissue flap may experience necrosis, which is when the tissue dies. Necrosis may require additional surgery.
The Decision to Have Reconstructive Surgery
Having breast reconstructive surgery is optional and a deeply personal decision. Every woman who opts for reconstructive surgery has her own reasons.
Some women want to look balanced when wearing swimsuits and certain shirts. The thought of not having their breasts is emotionally devastating to them. When possible, they choose to have the reconstruction done at the same time as their mastectomy.
There are some women who decide not to have reconstructive surgery at all. For them, too, it is a deeply personal decision. Rebuilding their breasts may not be important to them. Some women do not like the thought of more surgery and possible complications.
Yet, other women choose to postpone the decision. Months or even years down the road, they may consider if reconstructive surgery is right for them.
Alternatives to Breast Reconstructive Surgery
Women who decide not to have reconstructive surgery have alternatives. Some women choose to wear a breast prosthesis inside of a mastectomy bra. A prosthesis gives the outward appearance of having breasts without the risks of surgery. Women may wear their prosthesis all of the time, or only in certain circumstances such as while at work or when wearing certain clothing. A breast prosthesis is an affordable, flexible option. There are virtually no health risks to wearing a prosthesis, aside from possible skin irritation. However, some women may find them to be uncomfortable or cumbersome.
Another option is to simply do nothing, especially for women who had a double mastectomy. Their new appearance is different, yet balanced. These women have no desire to change anything about the way they look. Even some women who only had one breast removed may embrace their new body and not wear a prosthesis. It’s purely an individual decision.
Some women choose to celebrate their post-mastectomy body. For those who opt-out of reconstructive surgery, there’s a growing trend of getting tattoos over their mastectomy incisions.
Single-Use Medical Devices for Breast Reconstructive Procedures
Both surgeons and medical facilities recognize the benefits of single-use devices. Disposable retractors like obp’s ONETRAC and ONETRAC LX eliminate cross-contamination risks during breast reconstructive surgery.
Both retractors have an integrated light source that illuminates the surgery site during breast reconstructive procedures. Secondary light sources and rechargeable batteries are no longer needed.
Learn More About Breast Reconstructive Surgery
In addition, single-use retractors reduce costs by not needing reprocessing. It saves time so surgeries are kept on schedule when surgical equipment is already sterile and ready to go. Please contact us for more information about our single-use medical devices.