Throughout the journey that is living with breast cancer -- a reality for more than 15,000 Australian women who will be diagnosed this year -- there are some gruelling imperatives, and then there are choices that can be made.
Breast reconstruction is one of those choices. It can be empowering -- but is often less talked about.
"It is really about the right to return to being a normal woman," Dr Nicola Dean, spokesperson for the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, told The Huffington Post Australia.
Reconstructive surgery is a conversation surgeons will usually have with women after they have undergone their breast cancer treatment and mastectomy.
A lot of women do not realise that reconstruction is an option, or one that is open to everyone.
But according to reported figures, only between 10 to 20 percent of women in Australia will undergo a breast reconstruction.
Whilst Dr Dean believes the rates in Australia are higher than we think, she says the main issue is awareness.
"A lot of women do not realise that reconstruction is an option, or one that is open to everyone," Dr Dean said.
This Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, experts are calling for wider access to information to ensure that this does not remain an obstacle.
What is it?
Reconstructive surgery involves creating a breast that resembles a natural breast in appearance and form. And there are various options.
"Reconstructions are often performed in separate stages, either using the patient's own tissue from a different part of their body or using a silicon breast implant. Sometimes, we will use a combination of both," Dr Dean said.
"There are pros and cons for each. Having tissue taken from a different part of the body can be a longer operation, and requires longer time in hospital. The upside is there aren't any long term maintenance issues that can be associated with an implant that may need replacing over time."
What are the benefits?
According to Dr Dean, the decision to undergo a breast reconstruction following cancer treatment is often a psychological one.
"Some women may experience physical symptoms in their chest following their mastectomy, or they are feeling uncomfortable being lopsided (if they have one breast on one side)," Dr Dean said.
"Most women will come to me and say they feel very self-conscious -- even in ordinary clothes or when they are going about everyday things."
They are not talking about looking glamorous or sexy -- they just want to return to a normal life.
This is backed by clinical evidence and research, with a recent study linking reconstruction to improved psychological, physical and sexual well-being, as well as a woman's satisfaction with her breasts.
"When a woman gets dressed in the morning and can see their mastectomy defect, it really is a huge reminder of their cancer," Dr Dean said.
"They are not talking about looking glamorous or sexy -- they just want to return to a normal life."
Breast reconstruction is not for everyone.
"Some women feel comfortable in their own body and don't feel inhibited or distressed by their mastectomy. Others may not want more time away from their family," Dr Dean said.
"We have no issue with that. The main thing is that it is something that anyone can find out about. Don't be afraid to ask."
For more information on breast reconstruction, visit to the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons website, or consult your GP.
BRA Day Australia is holding an online forum where women can pose their own questions to the experts.
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