5 common breast reconstruction myths

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victorhassid.jpgBy Victor Hassid, M.D.

Breast reconstruction and symmetry procedures following mastectomy are very personal decisions that breast cancer patients need to carefully consider.

Fortunately, patients have choices when it comes to breast reconstruction. There is no cookie-cutter approach, and patients need to discuss their options in depth with their physician.

Here are five of the most common breast reconstruction myths I hear.

Myth: Breast reconstruction must take place immediately after a mastectomy.
Some women aren't certain they want breast reconstruction and wait months or even years before having surgery. Patients still undergoing breast cancer treatment may want to wait until after they have completed radiation, as radiation can limit your options for reconstruction and affect the final result. However, other women want to have breast reconstruction when they have their mastectomy.

There is no right time to undergo breast reconstruction. The timing of your reconstruction should be up to you and your physician.

Myth: I have to have implants.
Breast implants are one of three reconstruction options. The others include using your own body tissue in combination with an implant or using only your own body tissue. The two areas from which we use body tissue most frequently are the abdomen and the back. Other areas include the thighs and the buttocks. There are specific indications, contraindications, advantages and disadvantages associated with each one of these options, so be sure to discuss these with your reconstructive surgeon.

Myth: My breasts will look unnatural.
Breast reconstruction techniques have become so advanced -- and continue to advance -- that your breasts will look balanced when you're clothed. While many patients decide to have their breasts reconstructed at the same size as pre-mastectomy, others opt for smaller or larger breasts. If you don't have a double mastectomy, you may want to consider having a symmetry procedure on the unaffected breast (augmentation, reduction, lift) in order to achieve more desirable results.

Myth: I will only need one surgery.
Most people require a few procedures before their breast reconstruction is fully complete. The number of procedures will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of reconstruction you have, your body shape and size, your individual recovery, and your goals. During your initial consultation with the plastic and reconstructive surgeon, you will be able to discuss the initial reconstruction, as well as possible future procedures and their timing.

Myth: Breast reconstruction makes it harder to detect a breast cancer recurrence.
There is no evidence that shows breast reconstruction has any impact on cancer detection. The risk of cancer recurrence depends on a range of factors, including the stage of the disease and biological characteristics of the cancer. Talk to your doctor about the types of exams and screenings you will need after reconstruction because they vary depending on the type of reconstruction and your personal risk for recurrence.

A breast cancer diagnosis is an extremely emotional experience, and there are many issues you have to consider related to your treatment. The overall goal is, of course, survival, but there are options to help you maintain your femininity after a mastectomy, which is often a big concern for women following a diagnosis.

Victor Hassid, M.D., is assistant professor in Plastic Surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Katy and Memorial City.

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