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As you get ready for breast reconstruction surgery, ask your surgeon what to expect. Your surgeon can help you be as prepared as possible. You want to have realistic expectations of how your body will look and feel after surgery, and understand the benefits and risks of the type of reconstruction you are having. Ask questions and follow your surgeon’s instructions carefully. Some questions that may help you know what to expect include:
Breast reconstruction can make you feel better about how you look and renew your self-confidence, but keep in mind that the reconstructed breast will not be a perfect match or substitute for your natural breast. If tissue from your tummy, back, thigh, or buttocks will be used, those areas will also look different after surgery. Talk with your surgeon about surgical scars and changes in shape or contour. Ask where they will be, and how they will look and feel after they heal.
Your surgeon or other involved doctors/staff should explain the details of your surgery, including:
Health insurance policies often cover most or all of the cost of reconstruction after a mastectomy, but this might not always be the case if you have reconstruction after breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy or partial mastectomy). Check your policy to make sure you are covered, and find out what portion of the bill you’ll be expected to pay. Also, see if there are any limits on what types of reconstruction are covered.
Before surgery, make sure your insurance company will not deny breast reconstruction costs (for mastectomy or lumpectomy). Your surgeon may be able to help you with this if your insurance plan wants to deny coverage, so be sure to ask if you need help. It may take some time and effort. In the past, health plans have denied coverage for certain reconstruction procedures despite federal laws that require coverage in most cases. They often reverse such decisions on appeal.
Your breast surgeon and your plastic surgeon should give you clear instructions on how to prepare for surgery. These will probably include:
Plan to have someone take you home after your surgery or your stay in the hospital. You may also need them to stay and help you out for a few days or longer.
Breast reconstruction often means having more than one operation. The first creates the breast mound. This may be done at the same time as the mastectomy or later on. It’s usually done in a hospital.
Follow-up procedures such as filling expanders or creating the nipple and areola are most often done in an outpatient facility. But this decision depends on how much surgery is needed and what your surgeon prefers, so you’ll need to ask about this.
The first stage of reconstruction is almost always done using general anesthesia. This means you’ll be given drugs to make you sleep and not feel pain during the surgery.
Follow-up procedures may only need local anesthesia. This means that only the area the doctor is working on will be numbed. A sedative drug may also be used to make you feel relaxed but awake. You might feel some discomfort.
Any type of surgery has risks , and breast reconstruction may pose certain unique problems for some women. Your surgeon will go over the possible risks of reconstruction surgery with you. Be sure to ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about. For more on the possible risks after surgery, see What to Expect After Breast Reconstruction Surgery.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Breast Reconstruction. Accessed at https://www.plasticsurgery.org/reconstructive-procedures/breast-reconstruction on August 6, 2021.
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Mehrara BJ, Ho AY. Breast Reconstruction. In: Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK, eds. Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health; 2014.
Nahabedian MY. Factors to consider in breast reconstruction. Womens Health (2015) 11(3), 325–342.
Nahabedian M. Overview of breast reconstruction. In Collins KA, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, Mass.: UpToDate, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com. Accessed August 6, 2021.
National Cancer Institute. Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy. 2017. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/reconstruction-fact-sheet on August 6, 2021.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Breast Cancer. Version 5.2021. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/breast.pdf on August 6, 2021.
US Food and Drug Administration. Breast Implant Surgery. Updated March 31, 2021. Accessed at https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/breast-implants/breast-implant-surgery on August 6, 2021.
US Food and Drug Administration. Things to Consider Before Getting Breast Implants. Updated September 28, 2020. Accessed at https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/breast-implants/things-consider-getting-breast-implants on August 6, 2021.
Last Revised: October 20, 2021
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