After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Terri Jones had a plan. “When it got to the idea of reconstructive surgery, all I knew is that I didn’t want anything foreign in my body,” Jones said. “I didn’t want implants and I thought that meant I wouldn’t have reconstruction at all.”
After speaking to a friend who had breast cancer, Jones learned there are many more options when it comes to breast reconstruction than she realized.
One in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Thanks to research advances that have led to better early detection and treatment techniques, the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is more than 85%, according to the American Society for Clinical Oncology.
Most women have surgery as part of their treatment. Surgery may include a mastectomy — a procedure in which a surgeon removes the breast or breasts affected by cancer.
Another common procedure is breast-sparing surgery or lumpectomy, in which the surgeon removes a smaller section of the breast, including the cancer and some surrounding tissue.
All these procedures change the look and feel of the patient’s body. As a result, some women choose to pursue breast reconstruction to restore the look and feel of their breast or breasts.
Alvin Kwok, MD, a breast reconstruction surgeon at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah, works closely with all members of the breast cancer team at HCI, part of University of Utah Health. He cares for patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer as well as those who want to pursue reconstruction many months or years after their initial diagnosis.
Patients who choose to undergo breast reconstruction after cancer surgery have many options. “There are two main ways in which we can do reconstruction: either implant-based or tissue-based. With implant-based reconstruction, we use silicone or saline breast implants and place these underneath the skin to recreate the breast mound," Kwok explained.
"With tissue-based reconstruction, we recreate the breast mound using fat tissue from a woman’s own body, typically from the belly. Patients can also choose a prosthetic breast that can be worn under clothes.”
For Jones, learning about different reconstruction options meant she could make a choice right for her. “When Dr. Kwok described this body fat reconstruction that I had never heard of, I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ For me, it was just a process of asking questions.” According to Jones, “If I hadn’t had so much trust in Dr. Kwok, I would’ve really struggled more. He’s amazing. He’s patient and would give me all the time I wanted to ask questions.”
Kwok said that reconstruction is a very personal choice for each woman, so his goal during the initial consultation is to educate. “What I always tell patients is that this is an elective procedure. Your cancer has been adequately treated, through breast reconstruction we can help women feel and look as they did before a mastectomy. And for many women, that is an important step,” said Kwok.
Kwok believes each patient should make a decision based on what she wants and needs. What one patient chooses to do may not be right for another. Jones recently met with other women who had experienced breast cancer and was able to ask them about their journey.
“I think it helps to look in your circle for people who might have some insight from their own experience,” she said. “Let them know you don’t need advice, but you’d love to hear about their experience. And then you can take what you need or want for your experience.”
To learn more about breast cancer and breast reconstruction, visit www.huntsmancancer.org/breastcancer.