For most women with breast cancer, surgery is part of their treatment. Understandably, many women worry about what their body will look like afterwards.
“Fortunately, there are many great options for breast cancer treatment and breast reconstruction to help maintain or restore a positive body-image,” says CTCA plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Aaron Pelletier.
Reconstructive surgery uses a woman’s own tissue to form a reconstructed breast that looks and feels very natural. Autologous flap reconstruction takes tissue (called a “flap”) from another part of the body, such as the lower abdomen, to reconstruct the breast. This technique can result in a natural looking breast, and advances in reconstructive microsurgery may significantly improve recovery.
During autologous fat grafting, liposuction of a woman’s own fat cells from anywhere in the body are carefully injected to rebuild the breast, often at the same time of surgery. This technique can help to improve breast shape and symmetry.
In addition to innovative options for breast reconstruction, Dr. Pelletier says: “The support of physical therapists, mind-body therapists, nutritionists, psychiatrists and spiritual care providers can augment body image concerns in a truly comprehensive manner. There are also many support groups and organizations that provide great resources for women going through this challenging process.”
It’s normal for breast cancer patients to feel angry, sad or frustrated about changes to their physical appearance. Maintaining a good self-image can boost confidence, reduce depression and improve emotional well-being. Here are some tips to improve self-image for women with breast cancer:
- Give yourself time to grieve physical losses. It takes time to adjust to changes in physical appearance. Understand that as you get well, you will look and feel better.
- Know what to expect. Ask your doctor what side effects to expect and how you can manage them. If hair loss is expected, you may decide to cut your hair short before it begins to fall out.
- Remember you are still you. While your body may look and feel different, remember you are still the same person on the inside. Look within yourself and celebrate the person you are.
- Keep up routines. Keep up with routine health and hygiene activities, including grooming activities. Take care of your skin and nails. Maintain regular dental care.
- Experiment with your appearance. Use makeup, wigs, headscarves, or other ways to enhance your appearance. Try post-surgical bras and clothing, breast forms, and skin care products.
- Get active. Staying active can help you feel better about yourself and help you regain confidence in your body. Try to fit in light exercise or stretching each day, or learn a new physical skill.
- Pamper yourself. Read the newspaper, keep a journal, go for a swim, have a manicure, facial or a massage. Also try relaxation, guided imagery, humor therapy and stress management.
- Seek support. Let your friends and family offer love and support. Talk with other cancer survivors about how they coped with changes in their appearance. Seek professional help if needed.
Learn more about breast cancer surgery and breast reconstruction techniques.