For women with breast cancer, having a mastectomy is both a blessing and a curse, says Marla Ahlgrimm. On one hand, the cancer is gone, on the other, so is one of a woman’s most defining features. However, thanks to modern medicine, there are options to reshape the breasts.
Breast reconstruction, according to Marla Ahlgrimm, is essentially the addition of breast implants and potentially re-created areolas. Women who have undergone a single mastectomy may elect reconstructive surgery on one or both breasts.
Breast implants are typically placed in two separate procedures. The first Marla Ahlgrimm explains, involves inserting a tissue expander underneath the remaining skin and chest muscles. The expander device is gradually filled with a saline solution over the course of eight to 26 weeks. Once the expander has reached its capacity and tissue healed, a permanent implant is inserted. Depending on the woman’s breast structure, a physician may elect to place the implant at the time of the mastectomy.
In some cases, a woman’s nipples and areolas are spared during the mastectomy. When this is not possible, surgical reconstruction may be desirable to preserve the appearance of the naked breasts, asserts Marla Ahlgrimm.
Breast reconstruction is largely considered safe for breast cancer survivors who have completed radiation therapy. As with any surgery, it is not without its risks and the should be carefully considered prior to the decision to receive reconstruction with implants. Marla Ahlgrimm describes possible breast reconstruction complications as infection, hard tissue development around the implant, rupture, extrusion (the implant may break through the skin), blood clots, hematoma, and seroma of the reconstructed tissue.
Marla Ahlgrimm concludes by citing that the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 requires most private insurance companies to cover reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy.
For more information on this and other women’s health topics visit WomensHealth.gov.