You may have had or are about to have a mastectomy, either because you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or are at very high risk of developing it in the future. If so, your doctor may have told you about options to rebuild your breast or breasts — a surgery called breast reconstruction. Typically, breast reconstruction takes place during or soon after mastectomy, and in some cases, lumpectomy. Breast reconstruction also can be done many months or even years after mastectomy or lumpectomy. During reconstruction, a plastic surgeon creates a breast shape using an artificial implant (implant reconstruction), a flap of tissue from another place on your body (autologous reconstruction), or both.
Whatever your age, relationship status, sexual activity, or orientation, you can’t predict how you will react to losing a breast. It’s normal to feel anxious, uncertain, sad, and mournful about giving up a part of your body that was one of the hallmarks of becoming a woman: a significant part of your sexuality, what made you look good in clothes, how you might have fed your babies. No one can ever take that away from you. Moving forward, you now have the opportunity to determine what you want to have happen next. But first you must do some careful thinking and delving into your feelings in order to figure out what is best for you. In this section, we’ll talk you through each of the reconstruction options, what’s involved, and any risks, as well as alternatives to reconstruction.
Asking yourself some questions can help you start to think about what type of reconstruction you want — if you want reconstruction at all:
How important is rebuilding your breast to you?
Can you live with a breast form that you take off and put on?
Will breast reconstruction help you to feel whole again?
Are you OK with having more surgery for breast reconstruction after mastectomy or lumpectomy?
It’s also important to know that while breast reconstruction rebuilds the shape of the breast, it doesn’t restore sensation to the breast or the nipple. Over time, the skin over the reconstructed breast can become more sensitive to touch, but it won’t be exactly the same as it was before surgery.