Immediate Breast Reconstruction
Most women are able to have the breast reconstruction completed during their mastectomy surgery. After the surgeon removes the cancerous tissue, the breast implant is placed into the breast. The benefits of performing the breast reconstruction immediately include the ability to use the patient’s own skin tissue, the ability to have a better, more natural looking breast immediately after the mastectomy, and fewer surgeries required for a complete reconstruction. It will also help you maintain your self-confidence and self-image—avoiding some of the depression and sadness that can accompany a breast cancer diagnosis, especially one that results in the removal of a breast.

And for most women, having an immediate breast reconstruction will have little to no impact on your oncologist’s ability to treat (or detect a recurrence) of your cancer.

But if radiation will be part of your cancer treatment, or if you’re in the advanced stages of breast cancer, an immediate breast reconstruction may not be available to you. And there are some potential downsides to receiving a breast implant during mastectomy surgery: There’s a greater risk of complications with wound healing and a longer recovery time than after a mastectomy alone.

Delayed Breast Reconstruction
For some patients with advanced breast cancer, or who require radiation as part of their cancer treatment, breast reconstruction will have to wait until after the mastectomy has healed. But there are benefits to waiting until after the surgery has healed and the treatments have stabilized the breast cancer. The delay can give you more time to fully research your breast reconstruction options, so you can be certain you choose the right type of implant for you. It also allows your body to heal and recover from cancer treatments (especially important after radiation treatment), before you embark on a new set of surgeries.

But waiting until weeks or months after mastectomy to complete the breast reconstruction may result in a less-than-ideal breast reconstruction. Mastectomy-related scarring and a lack of extra skin tissue may result in a breast that doesn’t look as natural as a breast reconstruction begun immediately after mastectomy. And delaying the start of reconstructive surgery results in more surgeries, anesthesia, and recoveries than starting the breast reconstruction during the initial mastectomy.

Bottom Line
Your oncologist and plastic surgeon will be able to help you achieve the best possible breast reconstruction, without putting your full recovery in jeopardy. Whether you’re able to have an immediate breast reconstruction, or you need to wait until after the mastectomy to begin the process, you’ll soon look—and feel—like your old self.