Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Understanding the options of reconstruction

Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 11:57 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA HEALTH, Va. (WHSV) -Dr. Shannon Tierney has been at Augusta Health for a little over a year but has been in practice for 15 years.

“It is really an incredible moment to be with a patient. I feel like I am there to hold their hand. To help support them through this process. luckily most of them have incredibly good outcomes but no matter how good their prognosis is. No matter how easy, no matter how few complications they have it is going to be stressful it is going to be traumatic and seeing them on the other side is truly amazing,” Dr. Shannon Tierney explained.

Reconstruction includes the different surgeries a patient may undergo to rebuild the chest after treating the disease,

“Some women have to have a mastectomy and some women choose to have a mastectomy. When they do, there are a number of different approaches to doing this. They can go flat afterward and wear a prosthetic. They can choose a formalized reconstruction like an implant surgery. or a tissue-based reconstruction which most commonly involves a donor site from the belly or they can have a compromised version like a goldilocks mastectomy because it is not too much not too little.”

There are other surgeries that allow the patient to keep more of their breast. According to the American Cancer Society, some patients may be concerned that having a less extensive surgery might increase the risk of cancer coming back. Dr. Tierney says treatment and reconstruction vary from patient to patient.

“We talk about things like their skin quality, their breast size relative to the size of their body. If they have any other illnesses that may make reconstruction more challenging for example, patients with poorly controlled diabetes sometimes have some vessel damage that can make tissue-based reconstruction a little more risky,” she said.

Aside from tissue quality, it is important for the patient to know risk factors that could impact the outcome of surgery like smoking for example.

“For patients who are smoking, smokers or patients that have a long smoking history, we work with them to either try and quit before surgery, if that is possible or reduce the amount that they smoke or we look at ways to reduce the risk from surgery. For example, by separating the mastectomy and the reconstruction to give their body time to heal.”

While patient outcomes vary, Dr. Tierney says the goal is to help patients get to a point where they can go without thinking about breast cancer.

“With any surgery I do, I want you to be able to look in the mirror and not remember you had to go through this. I just want you to live your best life and cancer to be part of something that happened to you and not what defines you.”

For more information on the Breast Program at Augusta Health, click here.