The Role of Reconstructive Surgery in Cancer Treatment

Treatment for cancer often leaves the body ravaged and seriously alters your appearance, which could lead to chronic depression and low self-esteem. Cancer survivors often need ‘reconstructive surgery’ to repair such damage. As opposed to cosmetic surgery, reconstructive surgery is performed for medical reasons and can have a huge impact on the health and well-being of cancer patients.

Patients who have undergone surgery to remove cancer, might need reconstructive surgery. For instance, breast cancer patients who had to have a breast removed, can go for reconstructive surgery to replace the breast with an implant.

In the same vein, reconstructive surgery can help repair the body after removal of tissue or nerves following treatment for head and neck cancer or other cancers, including skin cancer. A very advanced sub-specialty, reconstructive microsurgery, uses precision tools and microscopes to repair severed nerves and tiny blood vessels, thinner than a strand of hair.

Some examples of reconstructive surgery post cancer treatment

Once the primary surgeon removes a tumour, the reconstructive surgeon, aided by a multi-disciplinary team, will first help in closing the wound and ensure better healing using special techniques, and later, perform a reconstructive procedure if necessary.

# Breast reconstruction: Breast reconstruction surgery, often using artificial implants, remains the most commonly performed procedure.

# Reconstruction following head and neck cancer surgery: Sometimes, bone is taken from a person’s leg to repair his/her jaw following a head and neck cancer surgery that has mutilated the shape of the jawbone. This is called ‘autologous reconstruction’.

# Skin, tendon, bone grafts: In this procedure, healthy tissue is harvested from another part of the patient’s body and transplanted to repair the damaged part.

# Local flap surgery: This is a similar technique, where the damaged area is cloaked by tissue harvested from another part of the body close by, to help in the healing process and minimize scarring.

# Artificial implants: Like in breast reconstruction, artificial implants are used for various other body parts that might have been lost to cancer surgery, including penis or testicles. Sometimes, the surgeon uses a 3-D printer to create the implant.

# Repairing scars: Cancer surgery may sometimes leave unseemly scars on the patient’s body, massively affecting mental health and self-esteem. There are reconstructive surgical procedures to repair such scars.

# Microvascular surgery: Reconstructive surgical techniques have seen a quantum leap in recent times, and surgeons often use really tiny stitches, invisible to the naked eye, to hitch the tissue to blood vessels to ensure uninterrupted blood supply. 

Neobladder reconstruction surgery: Post bladder removal surgery (cystectomy) for treatment of bladder cancer, your surgeon will need to create a diverse channel for passing of urine from your body. Neobladder reconstruction is a procedure where the surgeon uses a piece of your intestine to create this channel to enable you to urinate voluntarily.

How is the most effective type of reconstructive surgery chosen?

Choosing the optimum technique hinges on some of these factors:

# The site of the surgery and the magnitude of reconstruction required

# History of any earlier surgery in the same area

# Individual preferences

# Whether further cancer treatment is needed. Often reconstructive surgery can wait till the area heals properly or once radio or chemotherapy is over

# The patient’s overall health and any specific medical condition she/he might have

Recovering after reconstructive surgery

The recovery time depends on the type of reconstructive surgery performed. Now with huge advancements in surgery techniques and post-surgery rehabilitation facilities, time of recovery has drastically reduced and outcomes are much improved. Our Medica Oncology team provides comprehensive reconstruction facilities under expert surgeons and state-of-the-art rehabilitation services.