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Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy: Are Patients Making Good Decisions?

An outcomes article in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery asks the question: “Are patients making high-quality decisions about breast reconstruction after mastectomy?”

The objective of the study was to “measure women’s knowledge about reconstruction and to evaluate the degree to which treatments reflected patients’ goals and preferences.” Their conclusion (bold emphasis is mine):

Women treated with mastectomy in this study were not well-informed about breast reconstruction. Treatments were associated with patients’ goals and concerns, however, and patients were highly involved in their decisions. Knowledge deficits suggest that breast cancer patients would benefit from interventions to support their decision making.

Granted the study was small, but it left me wondering if we the medical community fails to educate these women.  

The study involved a cross-sectional survey of early-stage breast cancer survivors from four university medical centers. The survey included measures of knowledge about specific reconstruction facts, personal goals and concerns, and involvement in decision making. Only 84 patients participated (59 percent response rate). Participants answered only 37.9 percent of knowledge questions correctly.

Here are the general information questions asked in the survey with the correct answers: 

1.  In general, which women are more satisfied with their breast reconstruction: Those who have reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy or who have delayed reconstruction?

They are both equally satisfied. (Only 33.3 percent of the women surveyed knew this.)

2.  After which type of breast reconstruction are women more satisfied with the look and feel of the reconstructed breast: Implants or flaps?

Flaps. (Only 15 percent knew this.)

3.  Mark whether or not it is true for breast reconstruction with an implant: Uses fat and tissue from other parts of the body to make a breast.

The answer is false. (Only 13.1 percent knew.)

4.  Mark whether or not it is true for breast reconstruction with a flap: Usually requires more than one surgery.

The answer is true. (Only 28.6 percent knew.)

5.  Which breast reconstruction surgery is easier on the body, that is, heals faster? 

Implants are easier. (Only 57.1 percent knew this.)

6.  Of every 100 women who have breast reconstruction, about how many will have a major complication, such as needing hospitalization or an unplanned procedure, within  two years?

The answer is 25 to 50.  (Only 3.6 percent knew the correct answer.)

7.  How does breast reconstruction affect future screening for breast cancer?  

It has little or no effect on finding cancer. (Only 35.7 percent knew this.)

Which is right for you depends on many things:

— Are you a candidate for flap surgery, and if so which is best for you: TRAM, Latissimus Dorsi, etc?

— What kind of recovery time are you willing to put up with? Recovery from flap surgery is longer than for implant surgery.

— Does the thought of having a foreign body (implant) in your body bother you? If so, then put up with the longer flap recovery time and forgo the implants.

Ask to talk with other patients who have been through the surgery, preferably with your surgeon. They can tell you better than we can about recovery (i.e. the little things that can make life miserable or better).


1.  Are Patients Making High-Quality Decisions about Breast Reconstruction after Mastectomy? [Outcomes Article]; Lee, Clara N.; Belkora, Jeff; Chang, Yuchiao; Moy, Beverly; Partridge, Ann; Sepucha, Karen; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 127(1):18-26, January 2011.doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181f958de.

2.  Determinants of Patient Satisfaction in Postmastectomy Breast Reconstruction; Alderman, Amy K.; Wilkins, Edwin G.; Lowery, Julie C.; Kim, Myra; Davis, Jennifer A.; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 106(4):769-776, September 2000.

3.  Sacramento Area Breast Cancer Epidemiology Study: Use of Postmastectomy Breast Reconstruction along the Rural-to-Urban Continuum; Tseng, Warren H.; Stevenson, Thomas R.; Canter, Robert J.; Chen, Steven L.; Khatri, Vijay P.; Bold, Richard J.; Martinez, Steve R.; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 126(6):1815-1824, December 2010.; doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181f444bc.

4.  Patient Satisfaction in Postmastectomy Breast Reconstruction: A Comparative Evaluation of DIEP, TRAM, Latissimus Flap, and Implant Techniques; Yueh, Janet H.; Slavin, Sumner A.; Adesiyun, Tolulope; Nyame, Theodore T.; Gautam, Shiva; Morris, Donald J.; Tobias, Adam M.; Lee, Bernard T.; Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 125(6):1585-1595, June 2010.; doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3181cb6351.

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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