Reducing Scars After Breast Cancer Surgery

Breast Cancer

In the United States, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women and the second leading cause of cancer death. The American Cancer Society estimates during 2001, about 192,000 new cases of invasive female breast cancer would be diagnosed in this country and 40,600 women would die from the disease.

The risk for developing breast cancer increases with age. More than 75 percent of women are over 50 at the time of the diagnosis. By 70, about 50 to 60 percent of women who carry certain genes (the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes) develop breast cancer. Family history of breast cancer increases the risk two- to five-fold. Women with a history of cancer in one breast are three to four times more likely to develop a new cancer in the same or opposing breast.

Breast cancer is more common among white women, but African American women are more likely to die from it. Some other risk factors include: prior radiation treatment to the chest area, early start of menstruation, late menopause, not having children or having a first child after 30, and being obese.

Surgery and Scar Formation

Many women with breast cancer choose to have some type of breast conservation surgery. A lumpectomy involves the removal of the tumor and a small margin of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.

In a partial mastectomy, doctors remove the tumor, some of the breast tissue, and the lining over the chest muscle in the area of the tumor. Usually, some of the lymph nodes under the arm are taken as well. A lumpectomy and partial mastectomy are usually followed by radiation therapy.

When the skin is injured (such as during surgery), the body must rebuild the tissue. The healing process sometimes leaves a scar. Most commonly, scars are initially red and raised. Over time the scar becomes paler and flatter. But sometimes scars are more pronounced, forming thick, raised tissue along the site of the incision that may be painful or itchy.

In some people, the scar grows beyond the boundary of the incision and may continue to grow indefinitely. This type of scar, known as a keloid, is more common in people with darker skin.

Reducing Risk of Scars After Breast Cancer Surgery

Women with breast cancer must deal with the emotional trauma of having cancer and losing a part of their breast. Long after treatments are over, the surgical scar can be a constant reminder of the experience. In some cases, the resulting scar can be unsightly and disfiguring.

Sometimes the appearance of some surgical scars can be improved through further surgery or other treatments. However, some surgical oncologists are using plastic surgery methods to optimize the cosmetic appearance of the breast immediately after surgery. The techniques are known as oncoplastic surgery and are used for women having a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy. The ideal goal of the surgeons is to have the women come out of surgery with a normal-looking breast.

For information on scars:

American Academy of Dermatology

For information on breast cancer:

American Cancer Society

Cancer Information Service
National Cancer Institute
(800) 4-CANCER

For information about breast reconstruction:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons
444 East Algonquin Rd.
Arlington Heights, IL 6005-4664
(847) 228-9900