Losing one breast, or both, to breast cancer is a physically challenging and deeply emotional experience. There are numerous decisions to be made during this time, including whether or not to undergo breast reconstruction surgery. This is a personal decision that every woman must make for herself. As you explore your options, one of the factors you should consider is your life after reconstructive surgery.
At Terrasse Aesthetic Surgery, our goal is to help every patient look and feel her best — soon after surgery and for many years to come. Dr. Terrasse uses advanced reconstructive techniques to ensure your surgery is safe, your recovery is as comfortable as possible and your results are natural and beautiful. This overview will help you prepare for the days, weeks and months after your breast reconstruction procedure.
Recovering From Breast Reconstruction
Every patient’s recovery is unique. The details of your individual recovery will depend on which method of reconstruction you choose (implant reconstruction or autologous reconstruction), the timing of your reconstruction (immediate or delayed) and whether you have surgery on one breast or both breasts. In all cases, Dr. Terrasse will provide you with aftercare instructions and will meet with you for follow-up appointments during the healing process.
After your breast reconstruction surgery, your incisions will be dressed and drains may be placed temporarily under your skin to remove any excess fluid. Wearing special garments will help support your reconstructed breast and minimize swelling. Some degree of pain and discomfort is universal after surgery, but these sensations will gradually get better and can be managed with medication. Follow Dr. Terrasse’s instructions for wound and drain care.
Recovery takes longer for an autologous reconstruction than for an implant reconstruction as there is a second surgical site to heal. Healing from any breast reconstruction surgery will continue for several weeks while swelling decreases and the shape and position of the reconstructed breast evolves. Most women start to feel better in a couple of weeks and can resume usual activities, including work, within a couple of months. Dr. Terrasse will advise you of when you can return to specific activities such as driving, housework, sex, heaving lifting and exercise.
Risks and Complications of Breast Reconstruction
All surgical procedures have risks. Though many of them are uncommon, it’s important to have an understanding of the risks and complications you could encounter after breast reconstruction.
Some of the issues that can occur during or shortly after surgery include:
- Blood clots
- Fluid build-up
- Extreme fatigue
- Poor healing of incisions
- Problems with anesthesia
Problems that can occur later on after breast reconstruction include:
- Changes in nipple and breast sensation
- Loss of muscle strength at a tissue flap donor site
- Tissue death of all or part of a tissue flap
- Problems with a breast implant (rippling, rupture, capsular contracture, etc.)
- The need for additional surgery to correct concerns or refine your results
Dr. Terrasse will explain in detail the risks associated with breast reconstruction before your procedure.
Additional Procedures as Part of Breast Reconstruction
Breast reconstruction is often a staged process that involves multiple procedures with time to heal in between. If you choose to have your breast reconstructed with an implant, you may first require use of a tissue expander before an implant can be placed in a second surgery. You may also need surgery in the future to replace your implant if it wears out or ruptures.
Whether you choose implant reconstruction or autologous reconstruction, you may decide to undergo additional procedures to make your breasts look as natural and symmetrical as possible. These surgeries may include nipple reconstruction and tattooing on the reconstructed breast, and/or breast augmentation, breast reduction or breast lift on the opposite breast so it matches the reconstructed breast as closely as possible. The likelihood of needing additional surgery should be factored into your decision to have breast reconstruction.
Breast Cancer Screening After Breast Reconstruction
Women who have reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy generally do not need routine screening mammograms on the breast that was affected by cancer. There is not enough breast tissue remaining after mastectomy to perform a mammogram. It’s possible for cancer to come back in the skin or chest wall on that side, but it is usually found during a physical exam. A diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound or MRI may be done if an area of concern is found during an exam on a woman who has had breast reconstruction.
If only part of the breast was removed during breast-conserving surgery or lumpectomy, you should continue to have mammograms on the reconstructed breast. You should also continue with annual breast cancer screenings and regular self-examinations on the unaffected breast if you had a single mastectomy. Women who have had one breast cancer are at higher risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
The Emotional Journey of Breast Reconstruction
Only one part of recovery from breast reconstruction is physical. Just as it takes time to accept the loss of a breast, you may need time to start thinking of your reconstructed breast as part of your body. There is often a period of emotional adjustment after breast reconstruction. You may not think your breasts look or feel as natural as they should. You may be troubled by the lack of sensation or the look of your scars. You may find that certain parts of returning to your normal routine — like physical intimacy or shopping for clothes — trigger difficult emotions.
These feelings are normal and valid. Our goal is to help you feel whole, both physically and emotionally, so you can eventually move beyond this challenging period of your life. That is a process that looks different for every woman. Talking with a mental health professional and other women who have had breast reconstruction can be helpful as you adapt to your new body and move forward with your life as a breast cancer survivor.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Consultation
If you decide that breast reconstruction is right for you, you’re in competent and caring hands with Dr. Anthony Terrasse of Terrasse Aesthetic Surgery. His extensive experience and training as a plastic surgeon, combined with his eye for aesthetics and compassionate approach to patient care, make Dr. Terrasse a leading provider of breast reconstruction surgery in Lake Forest, Illinois. Call Terrasse Aesthetic Surgery today at 847-234-2400 to schedule a consultation.