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Medical Intel

Sep 11, 2019

For many women, breast reconstruction is an important part of the healing process after breast cancer surgery. Plastic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Fan discusses the three reconstruction methods we use and why treatment often depends on patients’ unique expectations, goals, and needs. 



Intro: MedStar Washington Hospital Center presents Medical Intel where our healthcare team shares health and wellness insights and gives you the inside story on advances in medicine.

Host: We’re speaking with Dr. Ken Fan, a plastic surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Fan.

Dr. Fan: Pleasure to be here.

Host: Today we’re discussing how breast reconstruction surgery, one that occurs after cancer surgery, works and what patients can expect from it. Dr. Fan, could you begin by explaining why women undergo breast reconstruction surgery after cancer surgery?

Dr. Fan: Well, that’s an interesting question. And I think a important point to point out at this juncture is that breast reconstruction after cancer is not cosmetic surgery. It’s a reconstructive procedure and it’s actually mandated by law as a result of the Women’s Health and Cancer Right Act. Therefore, I think it’s important for patients to know that their access to breast reconstruction surgery is not optional. There’s something about breast reconstruction after cancer surgery that really gives patients hope and an opportunity to feel whole again. And we see this in our research. After breast reconstruction, patients who have had reconstruction have the same quality of life as patients who haven’t even had cancer. And this has been shown in large, large series of data. And therefore, I think it’s important for a team of breast surgeons and plastic surgeons to discuss what the right option for breast reconstruction for that patient is.

Host: What is your patient population typically like?

Dr. Fan: I see patients for breast reconstruction with all sorts of lifestyles and requirements. And therefore, it’s very important for us to have a group discussion on what the best breast reconstruction modality is. For example, some patients have a very active lifestyle and want to get back to work right away. Therefore, we can do certain types of reconstruction that facilitate that. Other patients want this to be the last surgery they go to and really want that home run, so they don’t have any future operations in the future. And so, we also have surgeries for that breast reconstruction patient as well.

Host: How does breast reconstruction surgery work?

Dr. Fan: That’s a great question. So, globally speaking, there are three main ways that breast reconstruction can occur. The first one is an oncoplastic approach in which the breast surgeon takes out a small tumor and mere rearrange tissue within the breast. The second approach is after mastectomy. And this is usually with a, what we call, prosthetic-based reconstruction. We use an implant, or a temporary device called an expander, to reconstruct a breast mound. The third option is what we call autologous space reconstruction. And in autologous space reconstruction, we use patients own tissues, either from the abdomen or from the back, to reconstruct a breast.

Host: Following breast cancer surgery, how long does it typically take women before they have a breast reconstruction surgery?

Dr. Fan: So that’s a great question. Breast reconstruction can generally be done in the same operating room visit as the cancer surgery. However, there’s some rare cases in which patients will need what we call a delayed type of reconstruction. However, it’s important for patients to come see us before surgery and we can explore all the options together.

Host: How close can you get to making a breast look the way it did prior to surgery?

Dr. Fan: Depending on the cancer characteristics and the cancer excision, we can come pretty close. I think for patients and for us surgeons, our greatest hope is that patients, while clothed, can have the appearance of not having had breast cancer. And that is our ultimate goal. And, I think more often than not, we achieve this goal. However, if the patient were to look in the mirror unclothed, there are certain scars that would give away the fact that they had breast reconstruction.

Host: Is there anything women must do prior to breast reconstruction surgery?

Dr. Fan: Not necessarily. What’s important is to have a group discussion on what the best modality is for that patient. We practice a patient-centered approach, so we go through all the options and really discuss with the patients what is the best modality to make sure that they are happy with their surgery.

Host: Is there any new, exciting research related to breast reconstruction surgery?

Dr. Fan: At MedStar, we are constantly looking at how we can do things better. In particular, a lot of our research focuses on complications after breast surgery and improving the patient experience after breast surgery. Our second main point of research is improving the patient experience after surgery. In particularly, we are looking at use of enhanced recovery after surgery, short for ERAS protocol. This protocol, we have found, has decreased the amount of narcotic usage significantly that patients have to take after surgery. Patients find themselves walking post-op day 1 or 2 after a major operation and are leaving the hospital sooner. So much so that they are surprised at even how well they’re doing themselves.  

Host: Why is MedStar Washington Hospital Center the best place to seek care for breast reconstruction surgery?

Dr. Fan: I think it’s important for patients to know, for perspective patients to know, that at MedStar Washington Hospital Center we’re focused, not just on disease, but on the patients themselves. We focus on the patients’ needs through a multidisciplinary approach and really engage patients to help understand their expectations and desires. This makes us such a special place as providers are constantly collaborating together to come up with the best solution for our patients.

Host: Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Fan.

Dr. Fan: Thank you.

Conclusion: Thanks for listening to Medical Intel with MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Find more podcasts from our healthcare team by visiting or subscribing in iTunes or iHeartRadio.