When is reconstructive surgery done for women with breast cancer?

Reconstructive surgery

After having a mastectomy (or some breast-conserving surgeries), a woman may want to consider having the breast mound rebuilt; this is called breast reconstruction. These procedures are not done to treat cancer but to restore the breast's appearance after surgery. If you are going to have breast surgery and are thinking about having reconstruction, it is important to consult with a plastic surgeon who is an expert in breast reconstruction before your surgery.

Decisions about the type of reconstruction and when it will be done depend on each woman's medical situation and personal preferences. You may have a choice between having your breast reconstructed at the same time as the mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or at a later time (delayed reconstruction). There are several types of reconstructive surgery. Some use saline (salt water) or silicone implants, while others use tissues from other parts of your body (autologous tissue reconstruction).

For a discussion of the different reconstruction options, see the American Cancer Society document, Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy, available on or by calling 1-800-227-2345. You may also find it helpful to talk with a woman who has had the type of reconstruction you might be considering. The American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery volunteers can help you with this.  Call 1-800-227-2345 to find a program near you.
Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery
The timing of the reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients depends on the type of mastectomy, adjuvant therapy and the patient's specific individual desires. For patients whom desire breast reconstruction concurrently with the mastectomy, a plastic surgeon may be required. In some cases, tissue expanders are placed for 6-8 weeks and then a permanent silicone implant replaced subsequently. Also, tissue transfer or flap reconstruction may be performed at the initial setting or delayed. Patients requiring radiotherapy may need to delay reconstruction especially with prosthetic devices. Having ones breast reconstructed immediately may reduce the psychological distress of having the breast removed in general.

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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.