Breast reconstruction surgery is a common procedure after a single or double mastectomy. For many women, reconstruction is a way to go back to normal after surviving breast cancer. But what can you expect after this procedure? At Veda Medical in Live Oak, TX, we know how important it is for patients to understand their recovery process so they can prepare for surgery.
How Long Does a Breast Reconstruction Take?
Overall, the reconstruction procedure will take about 10 hours to finish depending on how extensive the procedure is and the specific technique that is being used. Preparing for this procedure can take about two hours since general anesthesia will need to be used. The reconstruction portion may take about six hours to complete. And the immediate post-operative recovery period will take about two or three hours since general anesthesia will need to wear off.
There are two procedure options that are used for breast reconstruction. Implant surgery is the simplest option and has the fastest recovery time. Implant reconstruction is typically used when both the breast tumor and surrounding breast tissue are fully removed.
Free flap reconstruction is a more complex procedure that involves tissue being taken from the abdomen to form new breasts, which are then placed on the chest. The immediate recovery period for this procedure can take as many as five days before patients are released from hospital care.
You will have several instructions to follow after breast reconstruction surgery during your post-operative period. For example, you will be instructed to follow a clear liquid diet with toast or crackers until general anesthesia leaves your system. You should avoid spicy and greasy foods for at least 24 hours. You may need to avoid caffeine and chocolate for at least one week, and you should focus on a diet high in fiber and protein during your recovery process.
You will also receive instructions for wound care, such as how to keep dressings dry and clean, when you can change your surgical dressings, and how you should treat sutures. Sometimes you will have drains placed on each breast to address discharge after breast reconstruction, which will have special instructions to follow.
One Month After Surgery
During the first month after your reconstruction surgery, you will be limited in your physical activities. Many women take two to four weeks off of work, particularly if they have a physical occupation. You will be required to wear dressings and compression bras for the majority of the day for the first four to six weeks after your surgery.
You may have several follow-up appointments during this time. Your physician may also recommend physical therapy exercises to help you recover more quickly, address new physical limitations, and learn safer ways to perform daily activities like hygiene during the recovery process.
Six Weeks After Surgery
About six weeks after your surgery, you will be able to return to work and do many of your daily activities, including errands and light exercise. At this time, you should continue to wear your compression bra until otherwise instructed by your surgeon. You may still experience some swelling at the surgical site at this time, but most of the soreness should be faded.
Three Months After Surgery
About three months after surgery, you will be fully recovered and you’ll be able to resume all of your normal daily activities. Many women would find it more comfortable to use high-impact sports bras for exercise and continued support. Depending on the procedure you had, someone in women has another breast surgery for nipple reconstruction if this procedure was not involved in your first surgery.
One Year After Surgery
One year after your surgery, you should have fully adjusted from the procedure and you should be able to stop seeing your physician for follow-ups. Any scars from the surgery should also fade somewhat at this point. You can use silicone-based gels, certain mineral oils, and even other topical products to reduce the appearance of scars during this time.
Will You Still Need Follow-Up Appointments After You Have Recovered?
Immediately after your procedure, you will need to attend several follow-up appointments every few weeks with your surgeon to assess how well you’re healing. After you have fully recovered, your surgeon and your care team will be able to gradually stop monitoring for cancer. After five years, you will generally only need to see your physician once a year to monitor your health.
Mammograms are not always necessary after breast reconstruction. If both breasts have been removed, then there should be no outstanding breast tissue that can possibly carry cancer. However, if only a single mastectomy was performed and you have only reconstructed one breast, your natural remaining breast will still need to have mammograms once a year to monitor for breast cancer.
Because breast cancer can spread to other female organs, it is common to have a pelvic exam once a year to monitor for any health changes. This is particularly true if you used certain hormone drugs during cancer treatment, as these can make you more vulnerable to developing uterine cancer. Even if you have already gone through menopause, you will still need to monitor the health of your reproductive organs with yearly pelvic exams.
Bone Density Tests
Bone density in women changes as they age, and women who have had mastectomies and who have used certain hormone drugs that inhibit the spread of early-stage cancer will likely be recommended for bone density tests every few years. Treating bone density is typically done with a calcium and vitamin D regimen.
Depending on your health, women who have been treated for breast cancer and who have had breast reconstruction surgery may also require other tests as part of their annual check-ups. Blood tests, imaging tests, and other tests can be ordered if women are having new symptoms. It’s important to note any new symptoms, including lumps on other areas of the body, breakthrough bleeding, or bleeding after you have finished menopause.
Why Do Women Seek Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
There are several reasons why women seek breast reconstruction. One of the most effective ways to treat breast cancer is with aggressive surgery like a double mastectomy, which completely removes all breast tissue from the chest to prevent the spread of cancers. For many women, losing breast tissue can be difficult to cope with. Some of the reasons why reconstruction surgery is soft by breast cancer survivors include:
Regain Breast Shape
Reconstruction surgery can help women regain breast tissue and breast shape. Breast implants can restore the appearance of the chest, which can be comforting to women. The psychological benefit of restoring the appearance of the rest can be immeasurable.
For women who have had a single breast mastectomy, a single breast implant or reconstructive procedure can balance the chest, which can make it easier to wear bras. Balancing the rest can also make it easier to eliminate body aches if muscles in the back and shoulder are stressed by uneven weight distribution.
Help Clothes Fit Better
Reconstruction can help clothes fit better. Women who experience a flat chest after a double mastectomy may find it difficult to buy clothes that are designed for females. This is because clothing manufacturers design clothing to conform to the curbs a woman has, and without these curves, clothes may not fit correctly. Reconstruction may make it easier to fit in the clothing you previously owned.
No External Prosthesis
For some women, an external prosthesis of breasts is used after a mastectomy to maintain the illusion of breast tissue. However external Prosthesis can be difficult to use, can irritate the skin, or can feel like a hassle or an unpleasant reminder that women do not have existing breast tissue. A reconstructive surgery eliminates the need for external prosthesis and simplifies a woman’s life post-surgery.
Learn More About What You Can Expect
Reconstruction surgery can take six to 10 hours to complete based on the type of procedure you’re having and whether both breasts are being reconstructed. Breast implants typically have the fastest surgical time and recovery time, but some women may prefer a free flap flap reconstruction since this procedure uses natural body tissues to restore the appearance of the breast. Contact us at Veda Medical in Live Oak, TX today to schedule your consultation for your reconstructive surgery.