Breast reconstruction can help restore the look and feel of the breast after a mastectomy. Performed by a plastic surgeon, breast reconstruction can be done at the same time as the mastectomy (“immediate”) or at a later date (“delayed”).
Breast reconstruction is an option available to most women confronted with the physical changes following mastectomy. While breast reconstruction is considered elective surgery, undergoing breast reconstruction can have profound emotional and practical benefits. It is also important to keep in mind that breast reconstruction does not interfere with the treatment of breast cancer or surveillance for recurrence. It can, however, help to enhance a woman’s confidence and self-image after mastectomy.
Many women now get immediate breast reconstruction. However, the timing depends on:
- Physical exam by the plastic surgeon
- Surgical risk factors (such as smoking and overweight)
- Treatments you will need after surgery
- Not all women can have immediate reconstruction.
It is important to discuss options with a plastic surgeon, breast surgeon and oncologist (and the patient’s radiation oncologist if having radiation therapy).
Dr Matthew Peters is a Queensland-trained Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon, obtaining Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons after undertaking training in both General and Plastic surgery. He is the Director of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland School of Medicine, and is a member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons. He works in both public and private hospitals across Brisbane and was made Director of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in 2014, a position that he still maintains to date. In the private sector he has appointments as a Visiting Medical Officer at the Brisbane Private Hospital, North Lakes Day Hospital, Northwest Private Hospital, the Wesley Hospital, and the Mater Hospital.
“Recently there’s been a lot of research into why Australian women don’t undergo breast reconstruction after a breast cancer diagnosis,” says Dr Peters. “And the reasons may surprise many. It’s not for fear of surgery or not wanting to go through a procedure such as reconstruction, but is actually due to a lack of education and awareness about the options that exist.”
The rates of women undergoing a breast reconstruction in Australia sit around 10 to 12 %, whereas the take-up rate is far, far greater in the United Kingdom and the United States, where the public awareness campaigns are stronger.
“Legislation also exists in many states in the US,” explains Dr Peters, “where there’s a mandate that every woman diagnosed with breast cancer has the opportunity to see a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction options.
“I think the range of possibilities in breast reconstruction is widely unknown and under-estimated – certainly by the general public and to a large extend amongst surgeons – and it can become a barrier to women seeking reconstruction,” Says Dr Peters. “Many women have an outdated notion of what a breast reconstruction will look and feel like and decide it’s not worth the perceived hassle to go down that path and that’s a shame because the psychological benefits a reconstruction can bring are tremendous.
(Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.)