According to the American Cancer Society, about 12% of women (1 in 8) will develop some form of breast cancer in their lifetime. For many women suffering from invasive breast cancer, a mastectomy is the best treatment option, as it allows doctors to more comprehensively remove cancer tissue. During a mastectomy procedure, all or part of the breast is removed.
While many women undergo mastectomies after they have been diagnosed with cancer, other women undergo mastectomies as a preventative measure. Earlier this year, Angelina Jolie made headlines for undergoing a double masectomy to help prevent breast cancer. Jolie carries a mutation of the BRCA1 cancer gene. Women who have this mutation are more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer. Because this gene can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer to as high as 87%, more women choose to undergo mastectomies to reduce their risk of developing invasive breast cancer.
Women who have undergone a mastectomy for preventative or treatment reasons often elect to undergo reconstructive breast surgery. Thanks to medical advances and better implants, the procedure is safe and effective. When discussing her own choice to undergo reconstructive breast surgery, Jolie herself explained that “the results can be beautiful.”
Breast reconstruction is performed by a plastic surgeon who rebuilds the breast, sometimes adding a nipple and areola (darker area around the nipple). The nipple and areola reconstruction is often performed during a second procedure after the breast tissue has had some time to heal. In general, this second procedure takes place 3 to 4 months after the first surgery. The American Cancer Society recommends that women who wish to undergo a reconstructive surgery after their mastectomy speak to a plastic surgeon before they undergo the procedure. Having a coordinated team, including a medical surgeon and plastic surgeon, leads to better results and care. In some cases, it is possible to both perform the mastectomy and breast reconstruction during one multi-step surgical procedure. Each woman’s case is different, though, so it is important to speak to your doctor and plastic surgeon before any procedures are performed.
Women choose breast reconstruction for a variety of reasons. Breast reconstruction allows women to permanently regain their former breast shape (and in some cases, enlarge their breasts). Some women elect to not perform reconstructive surgeries and instead elect to wear external prosthesis.
Breast reconstruction does not increase a risk of a woman’s cancer recurring, nor do the reconstructed breasts hide cancer during mammograms. Women who have undergone breast reconstruction should continue to have mammograms and perform regular self-checks.
It is important to seek an experienced plastic surgeon capable of performing the procedure. Dr. Leonard Grossman is a skilled plastic surgeon in Brooklyn who has performed countless breast surgeries including minimal scar mastectomies, reconstructions and breast augmentations. He understands the intricacies of breast surgery procedures and can help patients discuss their options.