Cosmetic and reconstructive treatments aren’t just for those seeking to enhance their physical appearance, they can also be pivotal in helping those looking to reconstruct and rebuild their confidence.

For many women who have lost their breast or breast tissue as a result of cancer treatment, Breast Reconstruction can help them get their identity back. This week, we give you the detail you need to make an informed decision about reconstruction after breast cancer.

Here’s the low down…

What is breast reconstruction?
The term, breast reconstruction covers multiple procedure options but ultimately, it is the process of restoring lost size and shape of the breasts using surgical methods, following the removal of breast tissue or the partial or complete removal of one or both breasts. The surgery seeks to return the breasts back to their natural state ensuring they suit your body shape if both breasts are affected or to correct asymmetry in cases where only one breast is affected. This is often followed by nipple reconstruction to restore the visual of a nipple. It’s important to note that breast reconstruction does not increase the chances of the breast cancer coming back!

Breast Reconstruction can be done either using an implant or your own tissue (often taken from your back or stomach) to restore and rejuvenate. However, the type of reconstruction will depend on how much breast skin and volume needs to be replaced, and how much tissue is available in various areas of the body that it can be harvested from.

Why do people have it?
Breast reconstruction is most commonly performed on women who have undergone either a mastectomy, where one or both breasts have been removed, or lumpectomy, where a part of the breast tissue has been taken away. This could be as a result of a cancer diagnosis to remove the breast or the tissue that is deemed to be putting your health at risk, or it could be a preventative measure for those women who are diagnosed as carrying the BRCA1 gene and therefore have a high likelihood of developing breast cancer. Whilst breast reconstruction is designed to restore the physical appearance, for many women, this is a key part of their recovery, helping them to regain their self-esteem and improve body image.

Am I a good candidate?
Past medical history and current stage of treatment decide whether you are a suitable candidate. Naturally your general fitness is always reviewed, as you will need to be strong enough to undergo reconstruction. Any serious health problems, such as heart disease or autoimmune diseases, can increase the risk during the surgery and can complicate recovery. Your surgeon will discuss your past medical history in determining whether this surgery is suitable for you.

Timing wise, if you are undergoing or planning to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments, it is usually advised to postpone reconstruction. However, there are two key options which should be weighed up.

Firstly, you can undergo ‘immediate reconstruction’, which is where you have the surgery to reconstruct in the same surgery session as the mastectomy. In this case, the cosmetic result is often better as more of the skin of your breast can be preserved and scarring is reduced. Whilst it may feel overwhelming to have two key procedures at once, many women prefer the combined recovery period and just the single hospital stay. Not to mention, for many, the fact they are never without a breast helps them to keep their physical identity intact.

‘Delayed reconstruction’ is the second option, with the surgery carried out weeks, months or even years after the initial mastectomy. In some cases, immediate reconstruction isn’t deemed appropriate, usually because of the need for further treatment. In this scenario, your cancer treatment can proceed without any delay, and having two shorter surgeries can mean recovery is less intensive. However, this format does require some time spent without breast(s) which can have a significant impact on confidence and self-esteem.

Finally, it is very important that you are in good health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, before undergoing this procedure.

How much does it cost?
For those seeking a full solution, private reconstruction cost starts from £3,500 and can go higher than £10,000 depending on the choice of hospital and treatment. In some cases, a breast reconstruction will be available on the NHS.

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