What Are the Risks of Breast Reconstruction?

Reviewed by Walter Erhardt, MD

Breast reconstruction following breast cancer may involve some risks. These include:

  • Dissatisfaction with the cosmetic results
  • Bleeding
  • Scars
  • Complications at the donor sites for flap procedures, including abdominal hernias and muscle damage or weakness
  • Differences in the size and shape of the two breasts
  • Delayed or incomplete healing due to previous surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, smoking, alcohol use, diabetes, various medicines and other factors
  • Breast implant complications from radiation, such as capsular contracture
  • Lack of normal breast sensation
  • Swelling in the arm (lymphedema)
  • Infection
  • Tissue death (necrosis) of all or part of the flap
  • Problems at the donor site
  • Fatigue
  • The need for additional surgeries to correct problems
  • Problems with anesthesia

Breast Health After Breast Reconstruction

Following your surgery, you will enter a period of breast reconstruction recovery that will last several weeks. It is important that you follow your surgeon's postsurgical instructions carefully to ensure that the healing process goes well.

Breast reconstruction has no known effect on the recurrence of breast cancer. It should not cause problems with chemotherapy or radiation treatment if cancer does recur. Talk to your doctors about ongoing screening mammograms. If your reconstruction involves a breast implant, get your mammograms done at an accredited facility with technicians who are trained in manipulating the implant to get the best possible pictures.

Talk to your doctor about the best ways to perform breast self-examination following reconstruction.

In medicine, risks should always be weighed against potential benefits. The benefits of breast reconstruction include:

  • Improved body image
  • Improved self-esteem
  • No need for prosthesis

A whopping 98 percent of elective mastectomy patients would have breast reconstruction again, according to an article in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

In general, breast reconstruction risks are minimized if you choose a board-certified plastic surgeon with extensive experience in breast reconstruction. Your surgical oncologist can help point you in the right direction, or you can find a local breast surgeon here.