Breast Reconstruction Recovery
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Breast reconstruction surgery helps restore the look and feel of your natural breasts. Many factors will affect your breast reconstruction recovery, including the reasons for choosing breast reconstruction, the type of breast reconstruction surgery and the timing of the procedure.
Women undergo breast reconstruction for several reasons, most commonly to restore the breasts after breast cancer surgery or prophylactic mastectomy (the surgical removal of breasts in women at high risk for developing breast cancer). Some women may also opt for breast reconstruction following trauma or to correct a congenital deformity.
Women who choose lumpectomy, in which the tumor is removed while the breast is left intact, may also opt for some type of breast reconstruction.
Breast reconstruction can be performed on one or both breasts and usually involves implants or a flap procedure. Fat grafting to the breast can also be used to enhance the appearance of your breasts following breast reconstruction. The recovery process differs for all these procedures. For example, if your reconstruction was done using a flap procedure, your recovery may be longer than if breast implants were used because flap reconstruction is a more extensive procedure.
Breast reconstruction can be done immediately after your mastectomy or at some point in the future. The timing of the surgery will affect your emotional and physical recovery.
Breast Reconstruction Recovery Basics
While each woman's recovery is unique, some general principles do apply to your breast reconstruction recovery. You will likely feel tired and sore for several weeks after your surgery. Pain medications can help control any discomfort you may experience.
You may have drains in place to help remove excess blood and other fluids from the incision sites while you are healing. Your incisions will be covered with bandages. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions on how to empty your drains and/or change bandages. He or she will likely recommend an elastic bandage or a support bra to minimize swelling and support the reconstructed breast(s).
Your surgeon will provide you with explicit guidelines about what you can and can’t do following your breast reconstruction. This will include avoiding vigorous activities for six to eight weeks. He or she will also tell you what types of over-the-counter pain medications are appropriate and which are not. You may need to take antibiotics to stave off an infection. Make sure you are clear about what is expected of you before you are discharged from the hospital or surgical center. Having a loved one or patient advocate with you is a good way to help make sure you take it all in.
Your Emotional Breast Reconstruction Recovery
For many women, recovery following breast reconstruction is a highly emotional experience.
There is no way to know how you will react to having newly reconstructed breasts. They will not look or feel the same as your natural breasts. You may feel like you have lost a part of yourself. If you had breast reconstruction following a cancer diagnosis, you may also worry about your breast cancer returning. This anxiety can overshadow how you feel about your reconstruction results.
Breast reconstruction rarely, if ever, hides a return of breast cancer. Make sure you develop a personalized follow-up plan with your oncologist. This plan will vary based on the extent of your cancer and your chosen treatment.
Choosing a Breast Reconstruction Surgeon
To help ensure a smooth recovery and minimize your breast reconstruction risks, be sure your breast reconstruction is performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon. He or she will be able to give you more specific information about your breast reconstruction recovery. Start your search for the right doctor now.