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Breast Reconstruction Can Boost Mood after Mastectomy

Published: November 23, 2011

Using a woman’s own tissue from her abdomen for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy can lead to rapid improvements in psychological, social and sexual health after the procedure, a new study has found.

However, the procedure can lead to continuing physical problems in the area of the abdomen where the tissue was removed, researchers warn.

The study, published in the October issue of the online journal Cancer, included 51 women who underwent two advanced forms of breast reconstruction that are gaining popularity in North America and Europe. The authors evaluated early psycho-social adjustments and health?related quality?of?life changes after breast reconstruction.

The women in this study had the procedures between June 2009 and November 2010. They completed questionnaires before surgery and three weeks and three months afterward.

The women reported significant improvements in psychological, social and sexual well-being as soon as three weeks after the procedure; however three months later they still had problems in the abdominal area where the tissue was taken for breast reconstruction

“This study highlights what most reconstructive surgeons have observed in practice—that breast reconstruction following mastectomy has the ability to alter a women’s emotional state and impact her socially and personally in her relationships both with herself and with other people. The reconstruction method in the study is one excellent option among many,” said Dr. Stephen P. Ray, medical director of oncoplastic and reconstructive surgery at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago.

Ray said that it is important to note that while patients did experience abdominal pain in the three month follow-up in the study, this type of reconstruction is not an insignificant procedure due to the altering of the abdominal wall. Long-term follow up is required and the abdominal issues would most likely be resolved in a six month to one year time frame, he said.

“The take home message from this study is that breast reconstruction offers potential,” Ray said. “That potential is to restore someone who has dealt with a traumatic event, the issue of cancer and the issue of losing a body part that is so tied to femininity - which unfortunately is reinforced through a media and pop-culture lens.”

According to the American Cancer Society, each year more than 254,000 American women face breast cancer. Today, the emotional and physical results are very different from what they were in the past. Much more is now known about breast cancer and its treatment. New kinds of treatment as well as improved reconstructive surgery mean that women who have breast cancer today have better choices.

“A person is so much more than a body and this study is a great illustration of how interconnected emotional well-being and physical health are,” said Katherine Puckett, national director of mind-body medicine at CTCA.

As mind body therapists working exclusively with oncology patients, Puckett said her teams’ goal is to help patients understand their feelings, know their own minds, and make decisions that are true to themselves and meet their individual needs.

“This is particularly true for patients considering reconstructive surgery,” Puckett said. “It’s often challenging for a woman who has been through such a surgery to look at herself in the mirror afterwards - never mind letting a loved one look too. Part of a mind-body therapist’s role is to help our patients navigate these situations and maintain relationships in the face of fear, anxiety and stress.”