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Body image and breast cancer – an intimate link

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Are a woman’s body image, her relationship with her breasts and breast cancer treatment linked?  YOU BET THEY ARE!

How are body image, self-esteem and our breasts related?  

Women have an intimate relationship with their bodies, for better or worse.  No one has a perfect body, and most women feel they are FAR from perfect!  Many women have a special relationship with their breasts.

The function of the breasts is one of the many things that sets women apart from men:  the ability to nurse a baby, and erogenous sensation.  While some women choose not to have children, not to breast feed or feel that their breasts and nipples are not important to them sexually, to other women, losing a breast can be devastating.

images (4)When a woman loses a breast to cancer, she experiences a loss unlike other forms of cancer.  She may feel she has lost part of what makes her a woman, to some degree.  While removing a breast can be life-saving, risk-reducing (in BRCA positive women or women with a strong family history of breast cancer), it can drastically change their body image.

One of the major reasons I went into Plastic Surgery was to help patients in the best way I could:  with my brain, my hands, my artistic ability and my sensitivity and caring about body image and self-esteem.  Plastic Surgery is about restoring form and function.

While breast reconstruction cannot restore the unique abilities of breast feeding and erogenous sensation, we can restore body image, help with self-esteem and allow a woman to move on after her cancer treatment, hopefully with a fabulous result!  Read a blog post about how I decided to become a Plastic Surgeon and how body image and our relationship with our bodies played a major role in that decision.

View a video presented by Living Beyond Breast Cancer entitled “Let’s talk about it”, which shows the perspectives of young women affected by breast cancer and their healthcare providers.  

This video spoke to me in that it could have been many of MY patients talking about their experience with losing their breast, how that affected them, going through the various stages of breast reconstruction, and how it affected their body image, their self-esteem, their marriage, intimacy and their relationship with their children:

When I see a woman in consultation for breast reconstruction, the main messages I deliver to my patient and their family are:

  1. Things are going to be okay.
  2. We are going to take very good care of you in my office.
  3. My goal as your Plastic Surgeon is to make your breasts as symmetric and look as natural, proportional and beautiful as possible.
  4. I am a perfectionist!  I will only be satisfied with achieving the very best possible results!  We try to do this in as few surgeries as possible.
  5. I treat my reconstruction patients with the same care and attention as my cosmetic patients.

images (25)To learn more about breast cancer awareness read our blog posts on this topic, and visit the breast reconstruction pages to read a general overview of breast reconstruction options, about single-stage immediate implant reconstruction, Microsurgical techniques such as the DIEP flap and inner thigh (TUG) flap, or options for women who have had a lumpectomy and radiation (reconstruction by breast lift or reduction).

I have written numerous blog posts about the variety of techniques available for breast reconstruction.  It is a topic I am passionate about and wish to educate others about!  I routinely speak at breast cancer awareness events, national conferences and small group settings to breast cancer survivors, pre-vivors, women considering breast reconstruction and women who have already had reconstruction elsewhere but are hoping to achieve improvement or better symmetry of their current results.bra-day-240x300

Later this week, I am hosting the Bay Area’s only BRA Day event, the third annual one!  Learn more about BRA Day USA here.

To schedule a breast reconstruction consultation in my office, complete our online request form or call 415-923-3067 today!

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Dr. Karen M. Horton, M.D. - Plastic Surgery, Physicians & Surgeons - Medical-M.D., San Francisco, CA