Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic Surgery Is reconstrution cosmetic surgery and is it vain to want it? This has been touched on in other threads in the past but I thought it deserved discussion in its own right.

My view is that it is not cosmetic surgery and it is not vain to want to have it. If you had a chest injury due to accident or being involved in a bomb blast and a surgeon offered breast reconstruction, I doubt that many people would regard that as frivolous cosmetic surgery and refuse it on those grounds. Similarly if an accident or bomb blast damaged your face, would you refuse reconstructive surgery as cosmetic or vain? I suspect not.

There is an argument that says that losing a breast or breasts doesn’t incapacitate you and prevent you from living a normal life so isn’t reconstruction unnecessary? However, people can survive with terrible facial injuries without reconstruction ( as you realise if you ever seen any photos from the First World War). But now there’s the technology to perform facial reconstruction as there is for breast reconstruction so if you have lost a breast or breasts, whether through accident or illness, I don’t believe that taking advantage of modern surgical techniques is cosmetic or vain.

I think one of the issues is that one of the most common cosmetic surgeries is breast augmentation or reduction and reconstructive surgery gets (wrongly) regarded as similarly cosmetic.

There’s also the question of whether reconstruction takes funding away from other health service needs. I don’t think it does to any real extent. Most reconstructions seem to be carried out at mastectomy time and I don’t believe that adds significantly to costs. Also I’m cynical enough to believe that if all reconstructions were stopped tomorrow, the money saved is unlikely to be dedicated to breast cancer services and drugs.

I don’t believe people should feel pressurised into having reconstructions if they don’t really want them, but equally, I don’t think people should be put off it by being made to feel it is cosmetic and vain because it isn’t.

— Daphne
I have struggled with this dilemma. I have always been a bit critical of people who have cosmetic surgery and have always said i wouldn’t have it unless i had a deformity or there was a medical need. Seeing what Michael Jackson and other celebrities have done to themselves i find really disturbing.

But now i am in the position of really wanting a reconstruction but feeling quite guilty about having it and the inconvenience it will cause lots of people. I am, hopefully, going to have it covered by private insurance so at least i don’t have to struggle with the idea that i’m taking resources from people in greater need than me. But then i was born feeling guilty as a lot of women are. And logically every woman should have the same opportunity regardless of how it is funded.
My husband can’t really understand why i want to put myself through a painful, debilitating operation which is not medically needed. My oncologist said pretty much the same thing.
I’m not sure i know why either. I don’t think i am a vain person. I’m not the most confident of people but i’ve got lots of things about myself i don’t like - my teeth, my hair, my fat stomach and if i could wave a magic wand i would change them but i’ve learned to live with them quite happily. But somehow, i don’t think i can learn to live with one breast. I think i just want to feel normal, to be able to buy the clothes and underwear i used to wear to swim or sunbathe without constantly checking that i look alright and no-one can tell.

When i was first diagnosed the breast care nurse fetched us the traditional cup of tea for bad news and kept saying “don’t worry you can have a reconstruction” to reassure me. I was devastated when i was told by the surgeon that this wasn’t advisable. I still wonder whether i should have pushed for it. Sure, RT can affect the reconstructed breast but an immediate reconstruction usually has a far better result. And i wouldn’t have had to go through the last year without a breast and i wouldn’t be doing all this agonising now, it would be all sorted.


Deformity The thing about cosmetic surgery is that it is elective, considered frivolous and therefore unmeritorious. However, mastectomy can cause much mental anguish and grossly affect quality of life. I underwent mastectomy 6 months ago. I am not sure reconstruction will be clinically possible for me, and if so certainly not for another year at least, so perforce I shall have even more time to reflect on the topic. Meanwhile I am pressing for a reduction on the remaining massive, pendulous breast (it was bad enough with two when I was at least balanced but with only one, weighing about 3 kilos, I am really uncomfortable). This is certainly “elective” surgery, but to my mind it is as much a deformity as if I had an excessive growth elsewhere that needed to be reduced, just as you see some poor folk with huge fat lumps growing from their necks, etc. When viewed in this way, viz. as a deformity caused by disease, the loss of a breast is unarguably a condition worthy of rectification.

Hi I don’t think it is cosmetic surgery, because it’s not something to make you look better (though in my humble opinion not all cosmetic surgery achieves that!) , but a procedure to restore you to the way you looked before. If they could use stem cells to grow new legs for amputees, no-one would argue that that was cosmetic surgery.

As regards the funding issue, it can be very beneficial psychologically for people to have reconstructions, so I think you have to look at it in terms of quality of life.

Quality of Life I definitely agree with the quality of life theory. I had delayed reconstruction - over a year after my mastectomy - and feel completely different now to how I did in the year between. I’m a million times more confident and my relationship with my husband has improved immensly too. Not that he ever put pressure on me to have the reconstruction, or made me feel in any way inferior for having one breast - it was definitely all down to me being unhappy.

I wish I’d had immediate reconstruction and cut out that awful year in between, but understand my consultants reasons for not recommending it.


–No its not vain, it should be available but its not for ev I don’t think its vain to want reconstruction after a mastectomy. Many women feel devastated by the removal of a breast and given the medical expertise is avaiable to recreate something approximating a breast then if this helps someone’s self esteem and confidence after surgery then it’s part of that person’s treatment. I don’t think reconstructions take resources from other parts of NHS treatment and it saddens me if any woman feels guilty for this reason for having a reconstruction.

But reconstruction was never something I wanted. When I was diagnosed my first reaction was: 'oh ‘ve got cancer and I’m going to die’, only second did I think ‘oh I might lose my breast’ . I was 55 when I had my mastectomy with a body already far removed from the ideal I would have wanted…we all care how we look and have issues with our bodies…part of the landscape of being a woman in the west. Over the years I had met several women with mastecomies…I remembered a woman who I used to see at the Womens Pool in Hampstead where I sunbathed in the 70s…a woman in probably her late 30s, beautiful, tanned and one breasted…another woman too in the steam rooms I used to frquent in Clerkenwell. I was familiar with the writings of the black feminist poet Audre Lorde, who herself had breast cancer and wrote brilliantly and persusively about the implications of the cover up that passing as two breasted had. (and she was writing about wearing a prosthesis…this was before reconstruction was so usual.)

When I realised I would have a mastectomy, reconstruction had simply not occurrred to me…the surgeon raised it as sadly something I would have to wait for (because of the need for radiotherapy on my chest wall.) He looked a bit surprsied when I told him I had no intention or wish to have a reconsruction.

Before and after my operation yes I did feel sad about my ‘lost’ breast…took photos of myself before surgery, and was anxious seeing the scar for the first time. But since then I have quickly got used to beeing one breasted…I don’t feel I look or am ‘deformed’ in the least. I don’t like the use of such words as deformity and ab/normal to describe anyone’s one breasted self. Such language is the language of fear, prejudice and discrimination. I don’t doubt that some women do feel deformed and that’s sad but language is powerful and can so easily be used to put down another’s woman’s body. Different bodies can be beautiful too…you only have to look at the sculpture of Alison Lapper in Trafalgar Square to see that.

In Diva magazine for February (Diva is a glossy lesbian mag)there’s an article and a beautiful photograph of a young woman called Tania Katan who had a double mastectomy and now runs topless to raise awareness. I think its a beautiful picture; a real positive image of living comfortably without breasts. (She’s also written a book which I’ve yet to read called My One-Night Stand with Cancer.)

Now I’m a slightly overweight, droopy one breasted middle aged woman and I’m not about to go topless running. (be nice though it that Fashion Show could show a few unconstructed breasts…)I too am modest in changing rooms, though I have sat in a sauna one breasted. I wear a prosthesis which means I do 'pass’as two breasted…I never was a cleavage kind of person so my clothes are pretty much the same as they ever were. My remaining breast is pretty average 38B and you can get a good prosthesis match for this.

I support anyone who wants to have a recon. but equally I would like to see the option of not having a reconstruction being presented as just as positive an alternative as having one. On the old forums over an 18 month period there were probably six women who posted who felt slightly pressurised into thinking reconstruction was something they should have…nurses who had told them they’d feel ‘better’ if they did…I want to challenge this kind of pressure, just as much as others will want to encourage the unsure to go ahead.

Finally I declined recon. because I didn’t want a long and probably painful operation which might not work successfully anyway…I have heard stories of people delighted with their recons, but also know stories of despair and disappointment. A reconstructed breast is never the real thing, and I think you have to mourn the loss of the real thing before you can feel absolutely happy with a replica.

I find living with cancer hard but living with one breast is just fine…in fact the reminder of my scars and my flat chest are the permanent reminders of all I endured and came through. I always did like the story of the Amazon warriors.


Ev I meant its not for everyone!


One breastedness I was having a clear out of all the paperwork I’ve got relating to breast cancer & treatment yesterday evening and I came across a leaflet that a breast care nurse gave me. It’s published by Breast Cancer Care and is aimed at younger women.

I thought of chucking it away but on the second page there’s a photo of a topless, one breasted young woman playing with her baby. I think it’s a beautiful, moving picture, so I’ve decided to keep the leaflet.

emmasz Hi emmasz

I hope you don’t mind, but I have moved your post from this thread and started a new thread with it. The new thread is in the Undergoing treatment forum, and the thread is called Infertility. Hopefully this will mean that your post will be more available for other people to read and respond to.

Best wishes

BCC moderator

Cosmetic surgery/plastic surgery Hi,

I had a reconstruction in April 2005 and I’m very pleased with it.

I don’t consider reconstruction to be cosmetic surgery (where people wish to enhance normal features or reduce the signs of ageing) but plastic surgery (where a new ‘breast’ is constructed from back or stomach muscle/tissue at the site of a breast amputation).

Reconstruction is a personal choice. Had reconstruction not been possible I would have eventually accepted that I only had one breast but because reconstruction was possible I felt that, for me, it was the right thing to do.

My husband left the decision on whether to have a reconstruction or not entirely up to me. He told me that he loved me anyway.

I didn’t feel guilty at all. I just wanted to feel comfortable with my body and not have to feel that I was always covering up and hiding something. It isn’t wrong or trivial to enjoy how I look.

Should we have ‘unnecessary’ operations at the expense of other NHS patients?

As Daphne says, most reconstructions are carried out at the same time as the mastectomy and so are not expensive. Even later reconstructions are not too expensive - people aren’t in hospital for weeks and complications are rare. And of course there is no such thing as a free lunch. The psychological effect on women of losing a breast is very great. I’m sure that if men had a disease where they lost their penises they would be clammering for penis reconstructions. If mastectomies were stopped tomorrow many more women would become depressed and become unable to work. This would effect taxes and there would be less money for the NHS. I would argue that for many women breast reconstruction is actually very necessary indeed and part of the psychological healing process.



Agree with both sides Like Jane I have never wanted to have a reconstruction. In fact it never even occurred to me to ask about it. Even though I was offered the possibility of another WLE plus more radiotherapy (this time to the outer edge of the breast and the armpit) I chose to have a mastectomy. After two tumours in the same breast I felt I couldn’t trust it and simply wanted to be rid of it. I can honestly say I haven’t regretted my decision for a moment.

Given the length of time my previously irradiated skin has taken to heal in one or two spots, I’m very glad not to be facing further surgery in that area (any reconstruction would have had to be a separate op, as my very good breast surgeon doesn’t do immediate reconstructions)

I very quickly got used to be lop-sided and don’t tend to wear a bra and prosthesis unless I’m going out or am expecting invited visitors. This is the way I am now and casual visitors have to take me as I am. If I’m not embarrassed to be like this on my own home ground I fail to see why anyone else should be.

None of this should be taken to imply that i am against reconstruction per se. It is very definitely NOT cosmetic surgery. For those women who have no choice about whether they lose their breast and who feel they do not want to have to go through life with only one breast or even no breasts, reconstruction shoukd be available as a matter of course. But I strongly agree with those who say that no one should be made to feel they ought to have it unless the really want to.

Kathy xxx