Healing is a process. That’s especially true when it comes to patients who are recovering from breast cancer treatment and mastectomy. For many patients, post-mastectomy reconstruction is a critical step in that journey of recovery.
Breast reconstruction post-mastectomy is a plastic surgery procedure designed to help restore the appearance of lost breast tissue.
For many patients, breast reconstruction can represent a return to normal or a reassertion of control over one’s body. Some patients may be reluctant to pursue post mastectomy reconstruction, in part because they assume it’s a cosmetic procedure and will need to be paid for completely out-of-pocket. However, breast reconstruction is nearly always covered by your health insurance. This means there’s nothing stopping you from achieving the body you want for your post-cancer life.
What Happens During a Breast Reconstruction Procedure?
Breast reconstruction typically represents a series of procedures. Each surgical step in the process takes place at different stages of your journey back to health. In some cases, reconstruction may occur before chemotherapy, radiation, or other cancer treatments begin. The timeline for your reconstruction will depend on your overall health, the progression of your illness, and your own preferences. These decisions are always made in conjunction with your oncology care team.
Most patients will need to choose between two primary approaches for their reconstruction procedure. Those two directions are as follows.
Breast Reconstruction Autologous (Flap)
“Flap” surgery is a way of transporting a section of your own tissue from area of your body to another.
In the context of post-mastectomy breast reconstruction, flap procedures will take tissue from one area of the body (usually, but not always, located in the abdomen) to create the reconstructed breast shape.
Once the flap procedure is performed and healing has progressed, the reconstructed breast mound should look and feel very natural.
Breast Reconstruction Using an Implant
For some post-mastectomy patients, the mastectomy skin envelope will allow for same-time breast reconstruction after the breast tissue has been removed. This technique usually presents patients with an opportunity for a faster recovery, as the surgery itself is less intense. However, in some cases, a special device called a tissue expander may be used to create a suitable pocket for a breast implant. Additional surgery at a later time would be required where the tissue expander and breast implant are exchanged.
Can I Still Get Reconstruction if I Only Have a Single Mastectomy?
In some cases, your oncology care team will recommend the removal of both breasts. This is called a double mastectomy. Often, however, only one breast needs to be removed–a procedure called a single mastectomy.
From a reconstruction standpoint, a single mastectomy will present different challenges than a double mastectomy. In most cases, breast reconstruction after a single mastectomy will emphasize correcting for possible asymmetry. Successful reconstruction after a single mastectomy is very common.
For the most part, reconstruction after a single mastectomy will follow the same basic course as a double mastectomy. It’s just that it will only occur to one breast–not both.
If someone chooses to undergo a single mastectomy any contralateral procedure is still covered by insurance such as breast lift, augmentation, and reduction to achieve symmetry. Cancer care is considered a reconstruction procedure as opposed to cosmetic.
What is Recovery Like?
Recovery after post mastectomy reconstruction will vary from patient to patient. In some cases, you may be asked to wear a special support bra. Some patients may also require drainage tubes to remain in place after your initial surgery.
Depending on the extent of surgery needed, your post-mastectomy reconstruction may be performed as an outpatient procedure. In other cases, you may require an overnight stay in the hospital. You can talk to your surgeon about which option may work best for you.
To facilitate healing and protect your results, you should count on altering your daily behaviors for at least a few weeks after your procedure. Your surgeon will provide you with detailed recovery instructions.
What Should I Expect After Recovery?
After your recovery period, you may need follow up care or revision surgery to achieve your desired results. It’s important to emphasize that, in most cases, your health insurance will continue to cover your needed reconstruction care, including revision surgery.
Once your recovery is complete, you may also elect to talk to your plastic surgeon about nipple reconstruction or a nipple tattoo.
Will Insurance Really Cover my Breast Reconstruction?
Everyone’s insurance is different, so it’s important to check with your specific insurance carrier before making decisions about your care. In most cases, however, health insurance will cover breast reconstruction surgery and all related care. While they may use similar techniques and drive towards similar outcomes, breast reconstruction is not the same thing as a breast augmentation.
This means your insurance will likely cover:
- The cost of pre-reconstruction care and procedures.
- The cost of your surgical treatment.
- The costs associated with your stay in the hospital or care center.
- Costs related to revision surgery.
- Costs related to the correction of asymmetry that may develop before or after surgery.
- And more.
These costs will usually be subject to the same rules, terms, and limitations as other healthcare expenses (ie: deductibles, caps, and so on). So be sure to check with your insurance company.
Talk to your Surgeon
If you have questions about post mastectomy reconstruction, make sure to talk to your surgeon and your medical oncology team about the best way to proceed. Some patients may be a good fit for surgery at Iowa City Ambulatory Surgical Center. If you want to have your procedure performed at Iowa City ASC, talk to your surgeon about a referral today.