With so much emphasis on the cancer journey, it's easy to forget about the scarring physical and emotional after-effects of breast cancer. The treatment of breast cancer is only part of feeling whole again, and after chemotherapy and a mastectomy, all you want is for everything to return to normal - including your body.
Womensforum talked with board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Allen Gabriel about the latest options for post-mastectomy breast reconstruction. Research shows that over the last ten years, there has been an increase in the rate of mastectomies by about 17 percent per year. Breast reconstruction can help to make the woman feel whole again and aid in the emotional recovery - yet the reconstructive process is still something that’s not very openly discussed.
More women are opting for immediate reconstruction following their mastectomy, during which breast tissue is removed. Dr. Gabriel says that women have the option of having an immediate reconstruction, which occurs at the time of the mastectomy and involves one invasive procedure, or having a delayed reconstruction, which can take place months to years after the mastectomy.
Options for reconstructive surgery are also improving. Dr. Gabriel says, "Over the last two decades, we’ve seen an increase in innovative products that have improved our surgical techniques. Some of those products are the AlloDerm® Tissue Matrix as well as the fat grafting processor, which have really helped us in offering better reconstruction for patients."
An AlloDerm® Tissue Matrix is made up off collagen from donated tissues and is used during breast reconstruction to add a layer of tissue. The great thing is that it becomes like a part of your tissue. Your body recognizes it essentially as a sheet of collagen and begins incorporating your own blood vessels and tissue. Fat grafting occurs when cells from other parts of the body that are rich in fat cells are transferred to other parts of your body, in this case to replace the loss of tissue in a woman's breasts post-mastectomy.
If you are considering reconstructive surgery, it's important to know your options. "Knowledge is power, and we want these brave women to feel empowered to make the appropriate decision that they’re going to be carrying a lifetime," says Dr. Gabriel. He recommends websites like breastreconstructionmatters.com, which provide great information for family members and partners to collectively sit down and educate themselves.