After cancer, breast reconstruction surgery helps some women feel whole again.

For many women, losing one or both breasts due to breast cancer can be just as harrowing as the disease itself. One in eight women will have breast cancer at some point in their life, and out of those eight, more than half will most likely need breast reconstruction.

According to Alex K. Wong, MD, an associate professor of surgery in the USC Department of Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC who specializes in breast reconstruction and aesthetic surgery, many women don’t feel whole without their breasts. “Let’s say that someone has one breast removed,” he said. “Suddenly, you have an asymmetric chest wall, meaning you have a c-cup breast on one side and a flat chest wall on the other. You can wear a prosthesis most of the time, but what do you do about swimming?

“It’s an obvious deformity and many women feel abnormal. Plus, it is a constant reminder of the cancer that you had,” Dr. Wong said.

Options for Breast Reconstruction

There are two common options for breast reconstruction:

  • Breast implants made of saline or silicone gel can be implanted underneath your skin either during your cancer surgery or at a later time. These are the same implants used in breast augmentation procedures. Implants have a shorter hospital and recovery time and fewer scars.
  • Tissue flap procedures use tissue removed from other parts of your body, usually your stomach or buttocks, to rebuild your breasts. Because this surgery is more invasive than implant surgery, it requires a longer hospital stay and recovery time. There is also more scarring since tissue was taken from other parts of the body. However, tissue flaps look and feel more natural, and they can enlarge or shrink as you gain or lose weight. Plus, tissue flaps never have to be replaced.

Yes, Your Insurance Covers It

“Some people don’t realize that breast reconstruction is covered by insurance. Breast reconstruction is part of breast cancer treatment and 100 percent of breast reconstruction, including minor revisions afterward, is covered by insurance, as long as the plan covers medical and surgical costs for mastectomy,” Dr. Wong said.

Choosing Your Plastic Surgeon

Many plastic surgeons are experienced with implants, but Dr. Wong says that a certain amount of expertise is required for tissue flap procedures. “Ideally, a comprehensive breast care center like the one at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center can provide a team approach from diagnosis to healing,” he said. “If your radiologist, oncologist, radiation oncologist, surgical oncologist, and plastic surgeon all know each other and are familiar with your case, they can make a unified, informed decision about moving forward.”

By Heidi Tyline King

Looking for a board-certified plastic surgeon who can advise you on breast reconstruction? If you are local to Southern California, schedule an appointment with one of the experts at Keck Medicine of USC by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273)or visiting https://www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.