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How has breast cancer reconstructive surgery changed?

Breast cancer reconstructive surgery was first described in the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, which dates back to 3000 B.C. Thankfully, things have changed dramatically since then. Breast cancer reconstructive surgery has gone from removing the entire breast, chest wall muscle and all the lymph nodes under the arm to saving the breast by removing only the tumor and only needing to remove one to three lymph nodes under the arm in most cases. Over the years, research has shown that such radical surgeries are not needed to achieve the same survival when combined with other treatment such as radiation. Additionally, newer techniques have allowed improved cosmetic outcomes with breast conservation, and in some cases saving the skin and/or nipple with mastectomy.

I think breast cancer reconstructive surgery has gone through a lot of different changes over the years. Initially reconstruction wasn’t the focus—historically the focus was treating the cancer itself. As we've gotten better and better at treating the cancer, we've really started addressing the whole person and recreating the breast as a whole. Today, I would say most patients choose some type of breast reconstruction. As technology has advanced, we can create a better aesthetic breast mound, and as implants have changed and gotten better and better, we have better tools to shape and restore the breast shape to what it was before, and sometimes even better aesthetic outcomes than before surgery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.