The question below is answered by Dr. James Craigie of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction.
I am not sure if I will need radiation after my mastectomy. What factors should I consider before going ahead with breast reconstruction?
Radiation therapy is part of the treatment for breast cancer for some but not all patients. To determine if it is necessary for any individual, the details of the cancer or the final path results must be known. The most common situation for radiation after mastectomy is based on the size of the cancer and the number of positive lymph nodes.
When a patient would benefit from radiation the treatment may affect the options for breast reconstruction as well as the timing of the reconstruction. There are several advantages to starting the breast reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy. These include: the breast surgeon can save more of the breast skin or even the nipple and this can set the stage for the best possible result, and avoiding an extra step and an extra recovery period.
If radiation will definitely be needed after mastectomy then I do not recommend immediate natural breast reconstruction because the radiation can possibly damage the new breast. In this situation the reconstruction would start approximately 6 months following radiation. These decisions are best made following the advice of your oncologist, breast surgeon, and plastic surgeon all working together. For this reason I am a strong advocate of the multi-specialty breast conference where each patient can be presented to all the specialists at once so they can share their opinions right away. Cooperation between experts can ensure better results and more options for each patient.
It is important to remember that if you need radiation for the treatment of breast cancer it does not mean you cannot have a very good result with natural breast reconstruction. It may however determine the order and timing of when the breast reconstruction should begin.