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The Important Role of Plastic Surgery in Cancer Treatment and Recovery

Cancer and cancer treatment can affect your body in many ways. Beyond the noticeable physical changes, it can also impact your self-esteem, body image and overall quality of life. The scars left by surgery or changes to your face or body can also affect  your psychological well-being. 

If you are undergoing cancer treatment, the idea of plastic surgery may arise as a way to reclaim a sense of normalcy and regain confidence in your appearance. 

Plastic surgery might make you think of cosmetic surgeries like nose jobs and breast implants, but reconstructive plastic surgery also plays an important role in cancer treatment and recovery. 

“Cancer treatments like surgery, radiation or chemotherapy can sometimes damage and alter the appearance of a part of the body,” said Michel Saint-Cyr, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner Gateway Medical Center. “Reconstructive plastic surgery can help repair these changes and improve quality of life.”

In many cases, reconstructive surgery can restore physical form, function and ultimately your well-being.

With the help of Dr. Saint-Cyr, we share the important role plastic surgery can play in your recovery from cancer and what to consider when making this decision. 

Ways plastic surgery might help after cancer treatment

Cancer may cause your life to change in many ways. Permanent changes to your body, such as scars, defects and disfigurements, may change how you feel about yourself. 

“Appearance can be closely tied to a person’s self and mental well-being,” Dr. Saint-Cyr said. “Reconstructive surgery, as part of a comprehensive cancer treatment plan, can help patients regain a sense of normalcy, confidence and well-being after the physical and emotional challenges of cancer.”

This holistic approach may also help with healing and emotional recovery, social relationships and the transition to survivorship.

How plastic surgery can help after cancer treatment

Depending on the type of cancer and treatments you have undergone, there are several ways plastic surgery may be part of your ongoing journey.

  • Breast reconstruction: If you have undergone a mastectomy as part of breast cancer treatment, plastic surgery can help reconstruct the breast. Your surgeon may use breast implants to recreate the breast mound or tissue from your stomach or other parts of the body.
  • Facial reconstruction: Cancer treatments may impact the appearance of your face. In cases of head and neck cancer, plastic surgery can help rebuild facial features, improving both function and appearance. Your surgeon may use bone from the leg, shoulder, arm or hip to rebuild your jaw or take skin and fat from your leg to reconstruct your tongue.
  • Scar revision: Cancer surgeries often leave scars, and plastic surgery can minimize the appearance of scars, improving both appearance and self-esteem. Your surgeon may use surgical removal of scar tissue and laser treatments to reduce scarring.
  • Functional improvement: Plastic surgery can play a role in restoring function for areas of the body that have been impacted by cancer treatments. For example, reconstruction after limb-sparing surgery may include implants (prosthetics) or bone from another part of the body to help with mobility and appearance.

Should I have plastic surgery after cancer treatment?

Cosmetic and reconstructive surgery may be a good solution for anyone wanting to leave their cancer behind and start a new phase of their lives. However, this is a highly personal decision. 

Before making any decision, talk to your oncologist and other members of your health care team. “They can provide valuable insights about the potential benefits and risks based on your specific medical history, specific type of cancer and treatment plan,” Dr. Saint-Cyr said. “You should express your concerns, preferences and goals with your team to find viable solutions.”

To help with your decision-making process, Dr. Saint-Cyr shared some other factors you may want to consider:

  • Educate yourself: Research and understand different surgery options. It’s possible for plastic surgery after cancer treatment to involve multiple procedures. A staged approach may sometimes be necessary to achieve desired results. 
  • Choose an experienced surgeon: Select a board-certified and experienced plastic surgeon with a specialization in reconstructive procedures for cancer patients. Seek multiple opinions to find the right fit for your unique needs.
  • Consider the timing of surgery: Factors such as the need for more cancer treatment, healing from previous surgeries and overall health may influence the timing of your procedures.
  • Understand costs and coverage: Understand the financial aspects, including potential costs and insurance coverage. Ask if your provider offers financial assistance programs to help with surgeon, facility and anesthesia fees and related expenses.
  • Prioritize your health: Ensure your overall health is stable before undergoing surgery. Address any underlying health issues with your health care team before surgery.
  • Seek emotional support: Consider seeking support from friends, family or counseling to help navigate emotions. It may help to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences. Consider joining support groups or online communities.

“Remember that your well-being is the top priority,” Dr. Saint-Cyr said. “Take the time you need to gather information, talk to professionals and make a decision that feels right for you.”


Plastic surgery can play a vital role in the post-cancer recovery journey. It can allow you to regain a sense of normalcy and boost self-confidence. But ultimately, the decision to undergo surgery should align with your personal goals after triumphing over cancer. 

Talk to your health care team or a Banner Health specialist to learn more about reconstructive surgery and if it might be the best treatment option for you.

For more cancer-related articles, read:

Cancer Outpatient Surgery Breast Cancer