Summary: As both preemptive and diagnosis-related double mastectomies become more common, what’s also becoming more common is the breast reconstruction process. And this is a good thing, as breast reconstruction has been shown to drastically improve quality of life for patients in as few as three weeks after surgery, at least according to research that has been published as early as 2011. As breast reconstruction becomes a more accepted topic, more patients are talking to their doctors about this sooner, further improving results.

Who Has the Best Outcomes?

Angelina Jolie is rightly hailed for her bravery, not only in electing for a double mastectomy, but also for being so public about the procedure. Her public stance, however, has lead to something of a rush on pre-emptive double mastectomies, and the science isn’t quite sure whether this is a good thing or not. In fact, a recent study published in JAMA suggests that women who undergo double mastectomy don’t always have the best outcomes.

Preemptive or Preventitive?

Whether the mastectomy was performed electively or due to the discovery of cancerous tissue, it’s likely that if you have breast trauma like that, you’ll also elect to undergo a complete breast reconstruction procedure. Sometimes this is performed with breast implants, and sometimes it is performed with donor tissues, often taken from the abdomen. The choice is often left up to you, and it depends on what you want the final results to look like and to represent.

But all of these variables tend to have an effect on the improvement of quality of life after the procedure.

For Best Quality of Life

In a 2011 study published in Cancer, researchers discovered a link between breast reconstruction and feelings of quality of life. According to the survey they collected, almost all women who elected to undergo breast reconstruction recorded an increase in the quality of life afterwards. However, that increase was certainly more pronounced in certain groups. For example, the study found that women who waited to have reconstruction—until their treatment was over—reported a higher increase in their quality of life. This also means higher than women who had a double mastectomy and reconstruction preemptively.

Stay on Your Guard

That’s not to knock the pre-emptive double mastectomy. For a certain segment of the population, it’s a great way to stay on top of the possibility of breast cancer. But as the study above describes, it’s not for everyone. In fact, there’s some thinking that a double mastectomy can lead women to have a false sense of security about the possibilities of breast cancer in their future. In other words, some women who get a double mastectomy assume that cancer is a nigh impossibility. And while it’s certainly much less likely to occur, it’s not impossible.

Make Mine a Single

Strangely, women who had only a single mastectomy tended to have better outcomes, conceivably because they received the benefits of the mastectomy but, because they had one breast remaining, were diligent about screenings and diagnostics. In other words, they didn’t get that sense of overconfidence that might be coming with the double mastectomy.

And lest you think a double mastectomy is the only way to get a great looking reconstruction, most plastic surgeons are definitely practiced at making your reconstructed breast look pretty darn close to the one original that remains. Nothing will ever be perfectly symmetrical—not even nature—so it’s impossible to meet that expectation, but it will come pretty close. In fact, many surgeons, such as the Minneapolis breast procedure experts at Minneapolis Plastic Surgery, specialize in that type of asymmetry.

Implants or Tissue Graft?

There are a couple of ways that surgeons build the reconstructed breast. One is with a tissue donation from the abdomen. In the 2011 survey mentioned above, this is one of the sore spots: women felt a decline in the quality of their abdomen. Whether this means that silicone implants are the right way to go is ultimately up to the patient, in consultation with her doctor. According to the survey, those women who opted for abdominal grafts were more satisfied immediately than those who opted for implants.

On the flip side, of course, is the notion that implants are an overall easier surgery. So much depends on your state as you enter down this road, and what you want to get out of the procedure.

A Needed Boost

Either way, more patients should speak to their doctors about breast reconstruction surgery. It’s an option that, explored early on in the process, can be accommodated to make the reconstruction an overall easier process. As the conversation continues, reconstruction is happening more often, and more women are finding that boost in their quality of life. And that’s what it’s all about.

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