For women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, it may be necessary to remove either part or all of the breast tissue. In these cases, women who undergo a mastectomy often choose to have their breasts rebuilt, whether it be with implants or with tissue harvested from their own bodies.

As you explore your options for breast reconstruction surgery, there are a number of factors you will want to consider. One of the most important considerations is your need for ongoing treatment. Radiation therapy is not routinely performed following a mastectomy, but it may be recommended for some women depending on the stage of the cancer and whether there is spread of the cancer beyond the breast.

If your oncologist believes that you need radiation therapy following your mastectomy, that could impact the type of breast reconstruction you get or whether you get breast reconstruction at all. The question is, how does radiation therapy impact your breast reconstruction results or vice versa?

The Type of Breast Reconstruction Matters

Studies have confirmed that radiation therapy can complicate your breast reconstruction results, particularly if you have reconstruction performed with implants.

It has been found that women who have their breasts restored via implants, then have radiation therapy, are at a much higher risk for capsular contracture than women who have their breasts rebuilt with a flap (natural skin and tissue). Capsular contracture is a condition characterized by a thickened scar-tissue shell formed around the implant, potentially leading to discomfort, change in shape of the reconstructed breast, or implant rupture.

In other words, radiation therapy can complicate the results of breast reconstruction, particularly when that reconstruction involves implants. In fact, radiation may double the risk of complications for women who have implant reconstruction. The risks associated with autologous/flap reconstruction (using a person’s own tissue from another part of the body) after radiation therapy are comparatively low.

Which Type of Breast Reconstruction is Right for You?

For many women, implant reconstruction may still be the best option. After all, autologous reconstruction tends to be a lengthier, more extensive procedure. However, for women who know they will need radiation treatment following their reconstruction, the autologous method may ultimately be the safer option.

Many oncologists note that radiation therapy can improve the overall quality of life following breast cancer, at least for some patients. As such, it is always worth discussing this treatment with your doctor, and taking it into account as you decide if, when, and how to have your breasts reconstructed.

Learn More About Breast Reconstruction Surgery

If you have any questions about the different types of breast reconstruction that are available or wish to learn more about the procedure that is right for you, an important first step is scheduling a consultation with a plastic & reconstructive surgeon near you.