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by: Randall Craft, MD Plastic Surgeon
Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Western Regional Medical Center
Many cultures associate breasts with ideas of beauty, femininity and sexuality, so when I see women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, they often tell me they are worried that those things will be taken away from them during treatment. It’s my goal as a plastic surgeon to help dispel these fears and educate women about the many breast reconstruction options available today.
The first place I start is helping them understand their rights as a breast cancer patient, and people are often surprised to know that in October 1998, Congress passed the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act. This act requires virtually all health insurance plans to cover reconstructive surgery for women who have undergone breast cancer treatment.
Once they understand their rights, it is critical for them to understand the options that are available to them – and they aren’t all surgical. Some women prefer to have prosthesis or padding rather than a procedure, while others look at surgical reconstructive options such as implants or a more natural option using their body’s own tissues. This type of surgery, called abdominal flap reconstruction, moves skin, fat, or muscle from one area of the body, such as the abdomen, to create a new breast.
Many women like the fact that once their abdominal flap reconstruction is complete, it is less likely to require lifetime maintenance which is the case from some implants. Since the reconstruction is their own tissue, it will grow and change with them.
Along with breast reconstruction, we often talk about nipple and areola reconstruction, including the latest in this technology called 3-D tattoos. Some women choose to have no areola tattoo performed at all, while others work with a specialty tattoo artist to create a realistic appearance of both a nipple and areola or have flowers or other designs on the breast mound. The life-like tattoos can further enhance a woman’s self-esteem, helping her feel more ‘normal’ after what may certainly be a traumatic emotional experience.
Understanding the options is the key to successful reconstructive surgery, but I really want women to understand that taking care of their physical well-being is just the beginning. Along with understanding the medical portion, I recommend finding ways for women to get mental and physical support as they go through the process. At my hospital, Cancer Treatment Centers of America® at Western Regional Medical Center, I encourage our patients talk to our mind-body therapists to help them grow more comfortable as they process the changes in their self-image. I also recommend working with a massage therapist who can help manage any pain a woman may feel as a result of the changes that may occur after surgery.
Reclaiming a sense of self after a mastectomy and a reconstruction is different for every woman. Having a team around you that not only works with you to find the best treatment options, but also find the best options for life after cancer, can help make your path to healing that much easier.
Dr. Randall Craft is a plastic surgeon at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Western Regional Medical Center in Goodyear, Arizona. He works as part of a multidisciplinary care team that provides the most up-to-date reconstructive options for a variety of cancer types. Board Certified in Surgery by the American Board of Surgery, he received training at a number of renowned institutions, including Georgetown University, the Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education and Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery and the American College of Plastic Surgeons. His research is published in numerous medical journals including Annals of Plastic Surgery, Pediatric Research, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Archives of Surgery. He has presented his research at several medical conferences both in the United States and abroad.