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Women’s initial experiences of their appearance after mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction: A qualitative study

Herring, Beth; Paraskeva, Nicole; Tollow, Philippa; Harcourt, Diana


Beth Herring

Dr Pippa Howard
Research Fellow in Burns PROMS Research


Objective: Surgical procedures intended to treat breast cancer or reduce risk of developing the disease typically result in changes to appearance and scarring of the breast area, and any donor sites. The longer-term impact of these changes on body image and quality of life are well documented, but research in this field has failed to explore women’s initial experiences of their appearance after surgery. This study used a qualitative approach to gain insight and better understand the experiences of women at this time point in their treatment pathway.

Methods: Women (n=128) who had undergone mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction following a diagnosis of breast cancer or to reduce their risk of developing the disease completed an online survey. Open-ended questions asked participants about their experiences when seeing the post-surgical appearance of their breast/breast area (and donor site, if relevant) for the first time, and the support available to them.

Results: Thematic Analysis generated four key themes: ‘preparedness and support’, ‘first thoughts and emotions’, ‘loss and grief’ and ‘the reaction of others’.

Conclusions: There was considerable variability in women’s experiences. Some felt prepared and emotionally supported at this time, whilst others felt this element of care was missing. The findings suggest there is a need to ensure all women are informed and have the necessary support when looking at the results of their surgery for the first time. Areas for improvement were proposed, including pre-operative discussions, increased preparation and support. This could potentially contribute to better patient outcomes overall.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Oct 1, 2019
Journal Psycho-Oncology
Print ISSN 1057-9249
Electronic ISSN 1099-1611
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 28
Issue 10
Pages 2076-2082
APA6 Citation Herring, B., Paraskeva, N., Tollow, P., & Harcourt, D. (2019). Women’s initial experiences of their appearance after mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction: A qualitative study. Psycho-Oncology, 28(10), 2076-2082.
Keywords appearance, breast cancer, breast reconstruction, cancer, mastectomy, oncology, qualitative, scar, surgery
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