Breast Reconstruction Frequently Asked Questions

There are many things to consider with breast reconstruction and it’s normal to have a lot of questions. As always, talk to your doctor about any questions you have about breast cancer and breast reconstruction.

What Breast Reconstruction Options Do I Have After a Mastectomy?

There are three types of reconstruction: implant only, use of your own body tissue or a combination of these two. For more information, see our page on breast reconstruction. Breast reconstruction usually takes multiple surgeries and certain recovery time to achieve the final result.

How Can I Know Which Method of Breast Reconstruction Is Right For Me?

The option that will work best for you depends on your body type, past surgeries, overall health, cancer treatment and personal preferences. At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, we have a thorough consultation process for all patients considering breast reconstruction. We’ll review with you all your options, including the pros and cons of each, as well as the expected outcomes, side effects and risks.

Do I Have to Have Breast Reconstruction?

No. Some patients choose to never have breast reconstruction. Others may choose to wait, and some patients may change their mind. You can always choose to wear a breast insert in your bra to help you feel comfortable in clothing and aid with the emotional feeling that missing your breast may create. Our goal is to assist you to live cancer free, as well as achieve your best health and well-being.

How Long Does Reconstruction Take?

The amount of time from start to finish will vary patient-to-patient. In general, it can take multiple surgeries over the course of six months to one year. If further cancer treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation, is needed it may take longer. Also, some patients may choose to wait until their body has healed from their mastectomy or to have it at the same time. Here’s an overview of what to expect with breast reconstruction surgery:

  • Step 1: Initial surgery to create the breast. Approximately three months for healing but increase this time if you need chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
  • Step 2: Follow up surgery to make changes, refine, or balance breast. Wait two to three months for healing. Repeat as needed.
  • Step 3: Optional surgery to add nipple and areola.

What Are the Risks Associated with Breast Reconstruction?

All surgeries have risks. Your surgeon will review the risks with you and please ask if anything is unclear or you have questions. We’re here to help you understand all aspects of breast reconstruction so you can make the best decision for your health care. Risks or side effects of breast reconstruction surgery may include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Undesirable cosmetic results
  • Wound healing problems
  • Changes in sensation, numbness
  • Fluid buildup (such as hematomas and seromas)
  • Scarring and discoloration
  • Hernia
  • Bulges
  • Partial or complete loss of flaps
  • Failure or loss of implants
  • Asymmetry (lopsidedness)
  • Weakness in chest or other part of body if tissue removed

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

Ask our team any questions you have about breast reconstruction. We have experts trained in all aspects of breast health to get you the information and resources you need.

  • Am I a candidate for breast reconstruction surgery?
  • When can I have the reconstruction done?
  • What types of reconstruction are possible for me?
  • What type of reconstruction would work best for me? Why?
  • How many of these procedures have you done?
  • Will the reconstructed breast match my remaining breast and, if not, what can be done?
  • How will my reconstructed breast feel?
  • What are possible complications?
  • Will I need blood transfusions? If so, can I donate my own blood?
  • How long will the surgery take?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • How long is the recovery time?
  • How much help will I need at home?
  • When can I start my exercises and return to normal activity such as driving and working?
  • Can I talk with other women who have had the same surgery?
  • Will reconstruction interfere with chemotherapy or radiation therapy?
  • How long will the implant last?
  • What happens if I gain or lose weight?

What If My Natural Breast Does Not Match My Reconstructed Breast?

In reconstruction, the goal is to create breast symmetry. However, sometimes it can be difficult, and surgery may be needed on the natural breast too. This could involve augmentation with an implant, reduction to reduce size or mastopexy to lift. Balancing procedures are often done three to six months after your first surgery.

Will I Need to Wear a Bra After Reconstruction?

Immediately after breast reconstruction surgery, you may be asked to wear a surgical bra for two to three weeks. This bra is similar to a standard sports bra with a clasp in the front.

What If I Need Chemotherapy?

Breast reconstruction should not delay chemotherapy treatments. Usually your medical oncologist will wait until you have healed from your mastectomy and reconstruction before starting chemotherapy. If you have complications, such as wound healing or infection, chemotherapy may be delayed.  If facing such complications, the reconstruction may need to be put on hold so you can proceed with your cancer treatment.

Once chemotherapy is complete, your surgeon will usually wait at least a month before considering further reconstructive surgery.

What If I Need Radiation Therapy?

You may want to delay breast reconstruction until you finish with radiation therapy. Radiation can damage your reconstruction.

If you need radiation treatment, a tissue expander can be placed during the mastectomy to preserve the skin "pocket." It provides a breast mound while you are waiting to finish radiation.

Implant-only reconstruction is generally not recommended because radiation can increase risk of infections, severe capsular contracture (scar tissue around the implant causes hardening of the breast), fluid buildup and poor cosmetic results.

Does Reconstruction Change the Risk of My Cancer Returning? Does It Make Cancer Detection Harder?

No. Reconstructive surgery does not increase your risk of breast cancer returning. It also doesn’t make it harder to detect.

Will Health Insurance or Medicare Pay for Breast Reconstruction?

In 1998, Congress passed the “Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act,” which requires group health and individual health insurance plans to cover reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. In general, the law states that these plans should cover:

  • Reconstruction of the breast where the mastectomy was performed
  • Surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to produce a symmetrical appearance
  • Prosthesis (artificial breast) and treatment of physical complications at all stages of the mastectomy

Medicare covers some breast prostheses for breast reconstruction if you had a mastectomy because of breast cancer. Visit medicare.gov for more information.

Check with your insurance company or your Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center clinical navigator to confirm coverage.

What Kind of Breast Reconstruction Would I Get After a Lumpectomy or Breast Conservation?

A lumpectomy or breast conservation therapy may create an indentation or dimple in your breast. Breast reconstruction may be able to improve this. In fact, your plastic surgeon may be able to “rearrange” the remaining breast tissue during your breast cancer surgery. This may leave you with a smaller breast or scarring. You also may consider delayed reconstructive options after breast cancer surgery.