“I can’t have natural breast reconstruction because I need radiation treatment.”

Most women, regardless of their need for radiation, are still able to have natural breast reconstruction. Patients who have undergone radiation treatment can still be candidates for DIEP or other flap-based surgeries.

While radiation treatment can affect some aspects of a patient’s reconstruction experience, this doesn’t mean that they are not candidates for DIEP or other flap-based surgeries.

Commonly used to treat breast cancer, radiation therapy destroys cancer cells and shrinks tumor size. However, it can also alter the texture, elasticity, and appearance of the surrounding healthy tissue.

As a result, the need for radiation may affect when a patient should have reconstruction. For flap-based procedures, the timing of radiation and surgery are coordinated to prevent damage to the reconstructed breasts.

Luckily, reconstruction doesn’t have to be done right away. Surgery can be performed the same day as mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or after mastectomy and radiation treatment are completed (delayed reconstruction).

Women should also consider the type of breast reconstruction that is right for them. The decision between natural reconstruction or implant-based surgery can depend on whether a patient needs radiation.

Implant-based surgeries are performed more often than flap-based procedures since they are easier to perform and require a shorter recovery time. However, implants are more likely to cause complications for women who have had radiation.

When an implant is introduced into the body, a thin, flexible scar capsule is formed as the area heals. Radiation treatment can thicken this scarring so much that the capsule can tighten and harden, causing it to squeeze the implant (“capsular contracture”).

This can cause complications (i.e., firmness, pain, implant displacement) that may require additional revision surgery and/or implant removal. This can occur whether radiation is performed before or after reconstruction because the tissue surrounding the implant has suffered radiation damage.

In contrast, natural breast reconstruction replaces this radiated tissue with healthy tissue from another part of the body. This approach is generally considered safer for women who have received radiation treatment, as it results in a lower risk of complications.

It’s important to work with your physicians to figure out the best course of treatment for you. Here at The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction, we want to help you learn about all your reconstruction options.

Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to make smart, informed decisions. To learn more, contact us at info@naturalbreastreconstruction.com or via chat on our website naturalbreastreconstruction.com.