PUBLISHED ON: 15 September 2014

Everyone expects me to have reconstruction but I don’t want it.

When women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, everyone offered a mastectomy and who is physically fit enough for the surgery is also offered breast reconstruction.

This might be immediate, or delayed until there’s been time to recover from treatment.

It is also an option for women choosing mastectomy to reduce their risk of breast cancer when they carry a faulty gene and are at high risk of developing it, such as actor Angelina Jolie.

But while there’s a lot of media focus on breast reconstruction and plenty of information in specialist cancer publications, choosing not to have a reconstruction gets much less attention. This is despite the fact that there are many women who don’t feel that the procedure is right for them.

Helpline calls

We know from calls to the Helpline that many women choose not to have a reconstruction in the face of expectations of family friends and colleagues who – perhaps because of media coverage – see reconstruction as the norm.

People may not understand your choice if for example they don’t know what is involved and see reconstruction simply as a way of restoring body shape, or if they have had a reconstruction themselves and are pleased with the results.

In our free booklet Breast prostheses bras and clothes after surgery we list some of the reasons women may not want to have reconstruction. These include the following.

• Some women feel less concerned about changes to their body than others.
• Not wanting to go through the extra surgery and recovery that breast reconstruction involves – often more than one surgical procedure is needed to get the right breast or nipple size and shape.
• There is a risk that the reconstruction will fail.
• Some women want time to adjust to their new body shape before deciding whether to have reconstruction or not.
• A reconstructed breast will not feel like a natural breast.
• They feel nothing will replace the natural breast.
• There may be other medical reasons why surgery or an anaesthetic is not possible.

In addition, some women may not want surgery that has an impact on another part of their body, such as their shoulder or abdomen, in order to create a reconstructed breast using their own tissue.

You may find that once people close to you understand your reasons, they will be more supportive of your choice.

We’re here to help

Connecting with other women who have made the same decision can give you support. Our Someone Like Me service can put you in touch by phone or email with one of our volunteers who’s been through a similar experience and is trained to help.

You can contact other women who have not had and don't want reconstruction through our online Forum.

We’re here on the Helpline if you want to talk things through with us Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 10am to 2pm. Phone 0808 800 6000.

Find more details of these services

It's your decision

What to do about reconstruction is a very personal choice. It's what feels right to you that's important and the decision is yours alone to make.

On the Helpline we often say when speaking to women who don’t want a reconstruction, 'You can always change your mind later'. But actually you might not, and that is fine too.