Talking to your surgeon

Surgeons who carry out breast reconstruction may be oncoplastic surgeons or plastic surgeons. If you are recommended to have a more complex type of breast reconstruction operation, you may need to be referred to a specialist plastic surgery unit to have this done. Your breast reconstruction surgeon can tell you about their experience and show you photographs of breast reconstructions they have done. They can also put you in touch with other women who have had breast reconstruction to talk it over with you.

Before you see your surgeon it helps to write down questions you’d like answered about the surgery. This may include what type of reconstruction the surgeon recommends or what other types of surgery there are. You may also want to ask about the possible benefits, risks and limitations of these operations. It can also be helpful to know about recovery times and what to expect at different time points after surgery.

If there is anything you don’t understand, let the surgeon know so that they can explain again. Breast reconstruction can be complex, so it’s not unusual for people to need explanations repeated.

Talking with your surgeon

Breast reconstruction is specialised surgery. Surgeons who carry out this type of operation may be plastic surgeons or oncoplastic surgeons.

Plastic surgeons are trained in reconstruction surgery. Oncoplastic surgeons are trained in breast cancer surgery and reconstruction surgery. Some types of breast reconstruction operations need to be carried out by a surgeon who is skilled in microsurgery (a reconstructive plastic surgeon). You may need to travel to your regional plastic surgery unit, which may be some distance from your home, to have this type of operation.

You can ask your surgeon about their experience in breast reconstruction. You can also ask to see photographs of breast reconstructions they have done. This can help to give you an idea of what may be possible with reconstructive surgery. Your surgeon or specialist nurse may also be able to put you in touch with other women who have had breast reconstruction to talk it over with you.

You may also want to discuss breast reconstruction after cancer treatment with other women on our online community at macmillan.org.uk/community

You can also get in touch with women who’ve had breast reconstruction following risk reducing breast surgery.


Some questions to ask your surgeons

It often helps to have a list of questions to ask. Both your breast surgeon and your reconstructive surgeon will be sensitive to your thoughts and feelings about breast reconstruction, so don’t be afraid to ask about anything you’re concerned about.

Some questions you might want to ask your breast surgeon:

  • What type of reconstruction surgery would you recommend for me and why?
  • What are the benefits, limitations and risks of this type of surgery?
  • When is the best time for me to have a reconstruction?
  • Where can I have this surgery?
  • Who can carry out this type of surgery?

Some questions you may want to ask your reconstruction surgeon:

  • What experience do you have in this type of surgery?
  • What can I expect my reconstructed breast to look and feel like: immediately after surgery, six months after surgery, a year after surgery?
  • What will the scar(s) be like?
  • How long will I need to stay in hospital for?
  • How long will my recovery take?
  • What do I need to do to help my recovery?
  • Can I see pictures of the results of the different types of operations?
  • Can I talk to someone who has had this type of operation?


Giving your consent

Before you have any operation, your surgeon will explain its aims. They will ask you to sign a form giving your permission (consent) for the surgery to take place. Before giving your consent you should receive full information about:

  • the type and extent of the surgery you are advised to have
  • the advantages and possible disadvantages of the surgery
  • any other types of surgery that may be suitable for you
  • possible complications and any significant risks or side effects.

If you don’t understand the information you have been given, let the staff know straight away so that they can explain again. Breast reconstruction can be complex, so it’s not unusual for people to need explanations repeated.

It’s often a good idea to have a relative or friend with you when the surgery is explained, to help you remember the discussion more clearly. You may also find it useful to write down a list of questions before your appointment.

People sometimes feel that hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it’s important for you to be aware of how your treatment might affect you. Your surgeon and breast care nurse should allow time for you to ask questions. You can ask for more time to decide about the surgery if you feel you can’t make a decision when it’s first explained to you. If you are having risk reducing surgery or a delayed reconstruction, you can take the time you need to make your decision. You may need to make a decision more quickly if you’re having a reconstruction at the same time as a mastectomy for cancer treatment. But, it is still very important to be as sure as possible that you are satisfied with your decision.


Back to Having breast reconstruction

Making your decision

An important part of making your decision about breast reconstruction is having realistic expectations about the result.

Your feelings

Breast reconstruction surgery can cause many different emotions. It can take time to adjust to your new breast(s).