Your breast reconstruction surgery & recovery
Breast reconstruction is a process that can take several months to complete—there’s a lot to consider, such as when to have surgery, what type of procedure you will have, and who will perform your breast reconstruction surgery. Remember that you are are an essential member of your breast reconstruction team, and your health care providers are there to guide you and offer support in the decision-making process.
Choosing the right procedure option for you
You are likely a good candidate for more than one reconstruction option, and you should feel confident that the option you choose is right for you. Be open and honest with your plastic surgeon about your concerns and preferences. There medical reasons to choose one option over another, such as:
- If you will need other cancer treatments that will delay reconstruction
- What reconstruction options are possible with your body type and medical history
- Which reconstructive technique will give you the best result
Your personal preferences and lifestyle matter too, so ask yourself the following questions and discuss your thoughts with your plastic surgeon:
- How do I want to look in and out of my clothes?
- How much time am I willing to spend recovering from surgery?
- What physical activities do I participate in that could be affected by surgery to my stomach, back, buttocks, or other donor site?
Preparing for your breast reconstruction
- Take time to research your breast reconstruction options. Your plastic surgeon’s duty is to discuss the various options and recommend a specific technique, but it’s your responsibility to choose how to proceed. Speaking with other patients can be helpful for gaining insight into different breast reconstruction options and learn more about the experience as a whole.
- Choose an experienced, board certified plastic surgeon. Consult with multiple plastic surgeons if needed, until you find a surgeon whom you like and trust to provide a safe procedure and the results you desire. At minimum, you should choose a surgeon who is board certified in plastic surgery and experienced in breast reconstruction. Don’t be afraid to ask about a potential surgeon’s experience. You may also ask to speak to that surgeon’s other patients—many are happy to share their experience and show their results to other women undergoing breast reconstruction.
- If possible, take steps to get in optimal health before your surgery. Surgery and recovery will be easier on you if you are in optimal health. If you are undergoing delayed breast reconstruction, you may have several months or years between your mastectomy and reconstruction to get in good physical shape and take steps to reduce your risks, such as quitting smoking.
- Plan ahead for your recovery. Expect at least 1 to 2 weeks away from normal activities. During this time, you will need help getting dressed, bathing, preparing meals, and performing other daily tasks. Recruit friends or family members to help you and make arrangements to take time off of work and other obligations well before surgery.
What to expect during recovery
Every patient has a unique recovery experience. How long it takes to return to normal activities and how you feel during different stages of recovery depend on many factors, including the type of procedure you have, your overall health, and your individual healing rate. Keep in mind that with tissue flap procedures you will have two operation sites on your body; where these are located will also impact your recovery.
- Patients are ready to go home after a 3-day hospital stay
- Most typically return to activities such as driving, desk jobs, and light housework within 1 week.
- You may be required to wear a compression garment to support the healing incisions at the donor site for several weeks
- Exercise is typically permitted after 6 to 8 weeks
Keep in mind that the recovery process may take longer if you having immediate reconstruction, as you will be recovering from mastectomy as well. Additionally, if you are having a buttock lift breast reconstruction, you will be required to modify positions for sitting and sleeping, and may need more time after surgery before returning to activities such as driving. Your surgeon will go over specific details of recovery during your consultation.
Life with your reconstructed breasts
While breast reconstruction can restore a very natural-looking breast that moves and feels like natural breast tissue, your reconstructed breast will not function like your natural breast did before surgery. A reconstructed nipple and areola will not have sensation and will not respond to temperature and touch, the breast skin may lack some sensation, and you will not be able to breastfeed.
Additionally, while an experienced surgeon will take care to place incisions in inconspicuous locations, some visible scarring may be unavoidable when wearing more revealing clothing, such as a swimsuit. The good news is that after breast reconstruction, there is no need for anyone except you and your doctors to know that the breasts you have now are not the ones you had before cancer, unless you choose to tell them.
If you have questions about any aspect of breast reconstruction, we are here to help. Our board certified plastic surgeons are highly experienced in a full range of breast reconstruction procedures, and have helped thousands of women restore their appearance and self-confidence after mastectomy.