The American Cancer Society estimates a total of 252,710 women in the United States alone will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2017. Women with life-threatening cancer and large tumors often undergo a mastectomy, which is the removal of the breast.
“Learning to be comfortable with your body during and after breast cancer treatment is a personal journey, one that is different for every woman,” said the American Cancer Society.
After losing a portion of their figure, nearly 50 percent of women choose to have breast reconstruction surgery following their mastectomy.
“Every woman deserves to feel feminine, and for many women, the shape and size of their breasts can make them feel less in touch with their femininity,” reads University of Utah Health’s breast surgery and reconstruction information page. “Having breasts that aren’t proportionate to your figure can be self-esteem altering. For women suffering from breast cancer, making breast reconstruction part of the treatment process can also put them on the road to healing.”
The Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) and the U’s hospital see patients born with breast deformities, patients who have undergone lumpectomies, in which only a portion of the breast is removed, and mastectomies.
Some of the factors preventing patients from choosing to take part in breast reconstruction are not knowing all of their options, not being healthy enough to undergo the procedure and worrying about focusing on anything besides cancer or that the procedure would interfere with treatment.
Jayant Agarwal, plastic reconstruction surgeon with the HCI and the U’s hospital said that breast reconstruction can be integrated into treatment.
“That’s one of the nice things about the Huntsman Cancer Hospital, is that we really utilize a team approach,” Agarwal said.
With a team of breast oncologists, breast cancer surgeons, plastic and reconstruction surgeons and other specialists, there are many different options when it comes to reconstructing a breast.
Patients can choose an option that takes a shorter amount of time — implant-based reconstruction. A reconstruction done with an implant is a fairly quick surgery with a short recovery time. But because it is so invasive, the risk of infection from this approach is higher than its tissue-based counterpart.
A tissue-based reconstruction consists of surgical removal of fat, and sometimes muscle from other parts of the body, and using the tissue to form the breast. This process takes longer on the operating table and has an extended recovery time, as the portions of the body the doctors take flesh from need to heal, too.
Reconstruction can take place right after a mastectomy or later when the cancer is long gone. For patients who wait for their mastectomy wounds to heal, reconstruction is generally delayed for three and a half months, six months or longer for chemotherapy patients.
Breast reconstruction at the U costs an estimated $6,000, but the U also offers free consultations to dive into each unique case, equipping the patients with all necessary information before they make a decision.