Summary: When it comes to fighting breast cancer, women can have a lot of decisions to make in the midst of a rather chaotic time in their lives. The continuing cooperation between oncological surgeons and plastic surgeons has meant a improvement in the way these decisions are handled. But that doesn’t mean that the entire process can be without complication. Indeed, new research seems to indicate that a certain type of complication can pop up when breast reconstruction and chemotherapy treatments are attempted at the same time.
Beating the Monster
Breast cancer can be a trying monster to grapple with. Yet, it affects so many people; not only the men and women who are diagnosed with cancer, but also their friends, family, and loved ones. Suffice it to say, cancer treatment can be a chaotic time in a person’s life—there are multitudes of doctors appointments and medical decisions to be made, to say nothing of the bills and insurance notifications that pile up in an unyielding fashion. It’s in this way that surviving the process can be just as challenging as surviving the cancer (not to trivialize that cancer, of course).
New research is pointing out a way in which some of those decisions might have to get a little more complicated before they get simpler. The research, published in Annals of Medicine and Surgery suggests that complications from chemotherapy can mitigate the benefits of breast reconstruction surgery following mastectomy. In other words, the research seemed to indicate that undergoing chemotherapy and breast reconstruction surgery simultaneously could be problematic and cause complications. The problem doesn’t seem to come from the chemotherapy itself, but rather from chemotherapy delivered by a central venuous line which then remains in place for the duration of treatment.
A Clotting Issue
Because the line is left in place, it can cause clotting issues. These clotting issues then result in a complication known as thrombosis, and which is then administered with anticoagulant medications. Surgery, then, is obviously not advisable for patients who are on anticoagulant medications, and must be delayed while the thromboembolic event is managed. In any case, this can delay mastectomy and the components of breast reconstruction associated with mastectomy procedures.
The existence of such a complications is indicative of a couple of things. First and foremost, it speaks to the successful integration of breast reconstruction into the overall approach to defeating breast cancer. There’s been remarkable progress in the last few years of recognizing how important to recovery these procedures are. Breast reconstruction allows a woman fighting breast cancer to reclaim—or hold on to—her identity during an already trying time. A mastectomy can feel very much like a robbery—as though the cancer has taken something vital away. Breast reconstruction surgery is an important way to make a patient feel whole again.
Breast Reconstruction Centers Help Immensely
The second thing this research illustrates is just how much more smoothly the process goes when all of a patients doctors—reconstructive plastic surgeons and oncological surgeons alike—are on the same page. By coordinating efforts, doctors can reduce the number of physical appointments a patient must attend and can improve outcomes. Indeed, even complications such as thrombosis can be anticipated and worked into the treatment regiment rather than treated in a reactive fashion. The more out in front of problems all surgeons are, the better the outcomes for patients.
And, certainly, this information highlights a need for surgical teams to continue working together for the benefit of patients. Several breast reconstruction centers and breast cancer centers have been established for just this purpose. According to the website of the New Jersey breast reconstruction center at East Coast Advanced Plastic Surgery, the goal of these facilities is to give patients a one-stop center for all breast cancer treatment needs, limiting the complications that could occur because of miscommunication and giving the patients a holistic strategy for complete healing.
Decision to Make About Breast Reconstruction Surgery
There are a lot of decisions to be made when considering breast reconstruction surgery. And if you don’t necessarily have access to one of these breast reconstruction centers, it can be difficult to coordinate between doctors. Unfortunately, this means that the patient really needs to stay on top of things—being open and honest and forthcoming about medical history and so on. In some cases, it might be appropriate to postpone breast reconstruction operations until after chemotherapy has been completed.
Indeed, it’s worth mentioning that while breast reconstruction is a vital component of recovering from breast cancer, the actual treatment is—whether radiation or chemo—has to come first and has to take priority. There are few surgeons who disagree with this assertion. So when there’s a conflict of interest, the cancer treatment has and always will win out.
An Individualized Experience for Best Results
It’s also worth noting that plastic surgeons and oncological surgeons are working hard to make breast reconstruction decisions easier for women who are recovering from breast cancer. There are several techniques out there designed to help women make those decisions (some plastic surgeons even developed a flow-chart for such purposes). And this makes a lot of sense. As we mentioned, cancer treatment can be a particularly chaotic time, and even something that sounds silly, like a flow chart, can make a big impact if it makes several decisions easier to come by.
The more research that is published on breast reconstruction surgery, the better plastic surgeons and cancer treatment teams will be able to predict and ensure results. Reconstruction can be a lengthy process, and there’s no doubt that the results improve the earlier in the process reconstruction becomes a part of the conversation. Some women choose to eschew reconstruction all together, while others put it off, but some want reconstruction to happen immediately. Every woman is different, and reconstruction surgery is designed to honor those differences.
This means that whatever your desired outcome in this situation, there’s a team of surgeons that can help you get there. It may not always be an easy or a comfortable path, but most patients who undergo breast reconstruction surgery, whether because of a single or a double mastectomy, agree that, in the end, it’s worth the trouble. Of course, that’s a decision best left to the patient.