Reasons Why Women Who Have Mastectomy Decide to Have or Not to Have Breast Reconstruction

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Abstract

Breast reconstruction after mastectomy is chosen by approximately 10 percent of Australian women. Younger women are more likely to have this surgical procedure. This suggests that there may be many factors determining this choice. Sixty-four women who wore an external postmastectomy breast prosthesis and 31 women who had postmastectomy breast reconstruction participated in the present study. The purpose was to gain a greater understanding through semi-structured interviews of why women who had breast reconstruction chose this alternative and why women who wore the external postmastectomy breast prosthesis elected not to have reconstruction. The study also ascertained how difficult it was for the women in both groups to decide their particular breast restoration alternative. The most frequently endorsed reasons for not having breast reconstruction in the prosthesis group included: (1) not essential for physical well being, (2) not essential for emotional well being, (3) not having enough information about the procedure, and (4) not wanting anything unnatural in the body. When each member of the group was asked to identify a major reason for not having reconstruction, two predominant issues emerged: (1) fearing complications and (2) perceiving themselves as being too old for the procedure. Twelve percent of the prosthesis group experienced difficulty in making the decision not to have reconstruction. Three factors accounted for this difficulty: (1) the lack of family support, (2) the inability to have a specific type of reconstruction, and (3) the perception that friends and acquaintances saw the surgery as cosmetic. The most frequently reported reasons given by the reconstruction group for having reconstruction included: (1) to get rid of the external breast prosthesis, (2) to be able to wear many different types of clothing, (3) to regain femininity, and (4) to feel whole again. The least influential factors were to improve marital and sexual relations. The major reason cited most often by this group was to feel whole again. None of the women in the reconstruction group experienced any difficulty when deciding their method of breast restoration. What factors are taken into consideration by women when they decide either to have or not to have reconstruction need to be understood by physicians. This knowledge will assist them in conveying appropriate information regarding alternatives and will help them deal with the women's concerns and/or misconceptions. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 101: 1810, 1998.)

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