Mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries are important steps in a breast cancer treatment plan. While these procedures can be life-saving, women are often left with lingering worries about the potential for recurrence. It is important to address these concerns and find ways to ease anxiety and promote overall well-being.
At The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction, we have over two decades of experience helping women through the reconstruction process. In this blog post, we'll discuss how likely recurrence is after mastectomy and ways to cope with these concerns.
Understanding Mastectomy & Breast Reconstruction
A mastectomy involves the surgical removal of all breast tissue. Depending on the stage and type of cancer, the nipple-areola complex, skin, fatty tissue, lobules, and/or ducts may also be excised. The goal of a mastectomy is to resect the cancerous cells and prevent their spread to other parts of the body.
A lumpectomy, also referred to as “breast-conserving surgery,' is another option that leaves most of the breast intact by removing the tumor with only a small portion of surrounding tissue. A lumpectomy will not be an option for everyone, as suitability depends on factors such as the type and stage of cancer, tumor size and location, position in the breast, and other individual considerations.
For women who do have an option between the two procedures, a mastectomy can provide peace of mind by removing all breast tissue and reducing the risk of recurrence. Additionally, some women may choose to have a preventive mastectomy if they have a high risk of developing breast cancer again due to family history, genetic factors, or previous diagnoses.
Natural breast reconstruction, also known as autologous reconstruction, is a technique that uses the patient's own body tissue to rebuild the breast after a mastectomy or lumpectomy. This procedure creates a new breast mound by transplanting skin and fat from other parts of the body—commonly the abdomen, buttocks, or thighs.
How Likely Is Breast Cancer to Reoccur?
Breast cancer recurrence is classified into three main types:
- Local recurrence refers to the return of cancer to the same breast as the original tumor.
- Regional recurrence refers to the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes and/or tissues.
- Distant recurrence, or metastatic breast cancer, is when cancer cells travel to other parts of the body.
explains, 'Breast cancer can reoccur in the breast after mastectomy, with or without reconstruction. If the reconstruction is done with your own skin and fatty tissue, then the new breast has no real breast tissue and can not develop breast cancer.'
He adds, 'If breast cancer remains after mastectomy, it could possibly grow into the new breast.' Because breast cancer occurs within breast tissue at the cellular level, it is impossible to guarantee that all cancer cells have been removed. However, studies show that the risk of recurrence after a mastectomy is relatively low. 'This is rare, but not impossible,' according to Dr. Craigie.
The explains that women diagnosed with breast cancer who undergo a mastectomy have a 6% risk of recurrence within five years if cancer was not detected in their axillary lymph nodes during their original surgery. This percentage is a decrease in breast cancer risk compared to those who didn't have this procedure.
If those axillary lymph nodes are cancerous, the risk of breast cancer recurrence increases to 25%. However, this risk drops back to 6% if patients receive radiation therapy after the surgery. Therefore, it's essential for women to understand these risk factors and discuss the potential benefits of additional treatments with their healthcare providers post-mastectomy.
Addressing Your Fears, Worries, and Questions
Every woman's experience after mastectomy is unique, but it's common to have fears and concerns about the possibility of recurrence. These worries often stem from the initial shock of their diagnosis. Some women feel anxious over every new pain or discomfort, worrying it could result in a new breast cancer diagnosis.
First, it's important to understand that experiencing pain or discomfort does not automatically mean that the cancer has come back. Many other factors can contribute to these symptoms, such as scar tissue formation, hormonal changes, or nerve damage. However, you should always feel empowered to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.
Secondly, self-care is crucial in managing these worries and promoting overall well-being. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation, as well as talking to a therapist, may be helpful to manage anxiety. Women can also benefit from finding support from others who have gone through similar experiences through support groups.
Many women also wonder if screenings and mammograms are still necessary after a mastectomy. According to Dr. Craigie, a breast cancer screening is only helpful if there is natural breast tissue present, so patients should no longer need regular mammograms after a mastectomy.
'From time to time, people will be seen in follow-up [appointments] for examination,' he explains, 'and have areas of the breast feel firm or hard.' In these cases, an oncologist or other physician may order a mammogram to rule out breast cancer recurrence.
Talk To An Expert
The recovery process can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. It's normal to have a number of concerns and questions as you navigate your post-mastectomy journey, and it's important to have expert healthcare professionals on your side to help address them.
At the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction, our team of highly experienced surgeons is dedicated to helping women navigate through this journey with compassion and support. If you're considering natural breast reconstruction after mastectomy or lumpectomy, we encourage you to reach out to our team.