Breast reconstruction surgery can be a life-changing procedure for women who have undergone mastectomy following cancer or who have uneven sized breasts or are overall, not satisfied with their current bust appearance. But while the treatment has been around for several years, not everyone realizes that it is indeed a very complex procedure that requires a lot of consideration to undergo and for which a patient needs ample time to recover and get acclimated to their new breasts.

Back in February, actress Angelina Jolie made the very bold and brave decision of admitting to The New York Times she had a double mastectomy after discovering she tested positive for a genetic mutation that increased her chances of developing both breast and ovarian cancer. Although she was not diagnosed with cancer yet, the move to undergo the double mastectomy brought about mixed opinions in the plastic surgery industry as well as among potential patients and critics.

Some commended her for taking preventative measures and have called her an inspiration to women around the world who are in her same situation or who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, showing how important it is to be proactive with one’s health and learn about their family history of illness. However, others, especially some breast reconstruction surgeons, are worried that some women may misconstrue the message Jolie was trying to send and mistake breast reconstructive surgery as a simple and quick procedure.

Although modern medicine has allowed for breast reconstruction to be one of the most commonly performed and safer plastic surgery treatments, some surgeons are afraid that the article might lead some prospective patients to underestimate the potential complications and risks associated with the procedure.

Breast reconstruction is by no means a “walk in the park” treatment. Several factors must be considered before a patient can even be approved for the surgery, including blood work and a comprehensive health evaluation. It’s not the kind of procedure that someone can simply walk into a doctor’s office and just sign in for, wait their turn and head home a few hours later.

As with all plastic surgery treatments, breast reconstruction does have its risks, in addition to many pros, so it’s important for prospective patients to have a complete understanding of the procedure and the different ways to go about it.

In her interview, Jolie said her surgeries were completed in nine weeks, but any experienced plastic surgeon can tell you this is an overreach. Most patients take closer to nine months to recover from reconstruction surgery. And although there are state-of-the-art techniques for reconstruction these days, from using implants to the patient’s own tissue, it’s important to remember that breast reconstruction is a major surgery, and every major surgery carries the risks of complications with anesthesia, infection, possible pain in the back and shoulder, among others. If opting for implants, they may need to be replaced in the future and if it’s the tissue transplant method that’s chosen, patients should be aware of the fact that additional incisions will have to be made, which may contribute to healing time.

It is also important for patients with a family history of breast cancer to understand that a mastectomy and subsequent breast reconstruction are by no means a “cure.” If one thing can be extrapolated from Jolie’s message, it’s that preventative measures are important in staying healthy, which is why it is recommended that all patients – men and women – with any family history of cancer undergo regular screenings and possibly even genetic testing to serve as a guide. However, there are many individuals who test positive for genetic mutations that may or may not lead to cancer, and this can lead to hasty decisions about surgery. Conversely, a person diagnosed with cancer may not have a family history and may not even bear the genetic mutation.

Everyone’s body is unique and reacts differently to surgery, the environment and medicine, even those with a genetic predisposition to develop cancer or any other disease. At Shafer Plastic Surgery in New York, we highly recommend getting annual check-ups and just trying to lead an overall healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, which can combat and reduce one’s chances for life-threatening diseases.

NY plastic surgeon Dr. David Shafer performs both implant and tissue breast reconstruction surgery and takes the time to understand each of his patient’s needs and health thoroughly before approving any procedure or treatment.

Bottom line: Breast reconstruction is not the kind of decision you want to make with the snap of a finger. It should be something that is carefully considered, along with the type of treatment, whether a single or double mastectomy is preferred, and several other factors.

If you have considered the procedure, schedule a consultation with Dr. Shafer today to determine if you are an ideal candidate for either reconstruction method or for another plastic surgery treatment.