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Reconstructive Options Available For Breast Cancer Survivors

By Connie Ho, originally published in the redOrbit

A mother. A daughter. A sister. A friend. A colleague. Each and every one of us has been touched by cancer in some way. With this in mind, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's a time to step back and bring some awareness to the disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2008, breast cancer was diagnosed in 210,203 women and was the cause of death for 40,589 women. There are different forms of breast cancer depending on the type of cells in the breast that become cancerous. As well, breast cancer can form in different areas of the breast. Warning signs of the disease include a new lump in the breast or underarm, dimpling or irritation of the skin of the breast, pain in any part of the breast, nipple discharge besides breast milk, as well as any observable difference in the shape or size of the breast.

"One of the most confusing nights of anyone's nights is the moment she gets the call or notification that it is breast cancer," said Dr. Steven Lynch, a surgeon with the Plastic Surgery Group in New York. "That's when patients are most distressed."

In this day and age, technology has helped in the rehabilitation process following treatment. The American Cancer Society reports that there are novel choices in breast cancer surgery. In particular, there are many more choices for women in terms of reconstructive surgery. Patients may choose to undergo a breast conservation surgery, otherwise known as a lumpectomy, or a mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed.

"It is a requirement that the patient with breast cancer have the ability to know that breast reconstruction is an option, whether it is following a lumpectomy or a mastectomy," explained Lynch.

It is recommended that patients who are interested in having reconstructive surgery discuss their options with their general surgeon. Patients will also start to gather information on their own, whether it's by searching out the general surgeon, oncologist, general doctor, or the internet. Finding a suitable plastic surgeon can result from a variety of ways but the immediate referral is by the general surgeon. Patients are asked to make a decision between undergoing a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, and there is also the option of having immediate or delayed reconstruction.

According to Lynch, a mastectomy and then immediate reconstruction can be completed with a patient's tissue, a tissue expander, or an implant. Delayed reconstruction allows the surgeon to complete the mastectomy and then gather details of the patient. For example, the surgeon is able to find out whether the patient needs to undergo chemotherapy or any other treatments in a delayed reconstructive option. The choice is up to the patient what kind of surgery they would like to opt for.

"Patients who have breast reconstruction are a select number of people, not everyone gets reconstruction," noted Lynch. "These people feel really good that they have gotten their femininity back. They don't feel like they have been taken away from the disease–they have these options, so many more than 30 years when reconstruction was in its infancy."

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