The decision whether or not to have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is a highly personal and emotionally charged process. Since breast reconstruction is typically performed in addition to a breast cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult for many women to navigate. One way to help make a decision is to evaluate the positive and negative aspects of having breast reconstruction, and to assess the potential side effects of the procedure to ascertain if it is the right decision for each individual.
Potential Side Effects of Breast Reconstruction
No surgery is risk-free. There may be negative reactions to anesthesia, excessive bleeding or a slow recovery period. These are potential side-effects of any surgery, but breast reconstruction carries a few unique concerns atypical of other surgeries. These can include:
- Excessive scarring
- Ruptured or leaking implants
- Additional surgery to replace deteriorated implants
- Unmet expectations
- Loss of sensation
Physical Side Effects of Breast Reconstruction
Excessive scarring can occur as a result of breast reconstruction. Typically, it can take up to two years for scars to fade, and some may not fade at all. Another side-effect of breast reconstruction is rupturing or leaking of the implants. This can have severe health consequences, and will require additional surgery to repair. Most women with implants after a breast reconstruction will undergo an MRI once every two years to check the implants and determine if they are still intact.
Additionally, over time the implants will deteriorate, so it is likely they will have to be replaced at some point. Since the surgery itself is extensive, nerves will be severed and it is likely there will be a loss of sensation in the breast after breast reconstruction. Some sensation may return, but typically this is a permanent side-effect.
Emotional Side Effects of Breast Reconstruction
Breast reconstruction is a big decision, and the choice of whether or not to have it performed can seem overwhelming in the face of a breast cancer diagnosis and a mastectomy. Some women may struggle with making a choice of whether or not to forge ahead; some may be influenced by their peers or family about the best choice for them. There may be some high expectations about the results of the surgery, and disappointment should the procedure not meet up with those expectations. The emotional toll can be high.
Fortunately, women have the choice of either having breast reconstruction done at the time of the mastectomy or waiting a period of time to recover. Both have advantages and disadvantages ﾖ a woman should discuss these thoroughly with her surgeon before making a final decision. In any case, being informed about the potential side-effects of breast reconstruction is the most valuable tool in making such a decision.