Managing Treatments

Reconstructive Surgery for Cancer Patients: What’s Plastic Surgery’s Role in Cancer Treatment?

Reconstructive surgery for cancer patients isn't the same as an elective cosmetic procedure. It can be an important part of your cancer care, treatment and recovery.

When deciding on treatment for cancers such as breast, skin or head and neck cancer, your doctor may bring up reconstructive surgery. For cancer patients, that might be the furthest thing from your mind. After all, removing tumors and ridding your body of cancer is your main priority.

However, some surgery and treatment options may change how your body looks and feels. Reconstructive surgery for cancer patients may help you feel more normal and like yourself.

What Is Reconstructive Surgery for Cancer Patients?

While you may associate plastic surgery with elective cosmetic procedures like tummy tucks and neck lifts, reconstructive surgery for cancer patients can play an important role in your treatment and recovery journey. Unlike elective cosmetic procedures, reconstructive surgery can help restore normal function to affected parts of your body after your cancer treatment and can improve your quality of life.

According to Cancer.net, reconstructive surgery can include skin, bone and tendon grafts, scar revisions, artificial implants and local flap surgery. These procedures aim to help:

  • Restore function: Sometimes, surgery to remove tumors may change how your body works —from how you eat to how you breathe — and how you feel about your body. For example, Cancer.net reports that treatment for head and neck cancers may change the shape of your jaw or may change the shape of your mouth or tongue, making speaking and eating difficult. A reconstructive plastic surgeon can rebuild and reshape these areas to improve function and appearance so they look and feel more normal.
  • Restore form: Cancer treatment can also change the appearance of your body, which can affect your sense of self and self-confidence. Breast cancer patients who opt for a mastectomy may choose to have breast reconstruction surgery. For skin cancer patients, removal of the cancer may result in scars or require a skin graft to restore your skin’s appearance, according to the American Cancer Society.

What’s Right for You?

Options for reconstructive surgery for cancer patients depend on diagnosis, treatment, health and other factors, such as your personal preferences and need for further treatment.

Depending on your diagnosis and treatment, these procedures can be conducted in your doctor’s office, surgery center or hospital. Insurance coverage varies, so be sure to check your policy to see what’s covered. For breast cancer patients, the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act is a federal law that requires most insurance plans to cover breast reconstruction if they also cover mastectomy surgery, the American Cancer Society explains.

Talk to your doctor and cancer care team about what options are available to you and best fit your needs. Remember, reconstructive surgery can be an important part of your cancer care, treatment and recovery.

If you are considering reconstructive surgery or have questions, talk to your doctor about what options are available to you.

Learn More
Christine Yu