Chemotherapy, Your Immune System, and Breast Reconstruction
By: Courtney Floyd
A recent study from the University of Leeds and published in the Breast Cancer Research journal showed breast cancer survivors treated with chemotherapy could be more susceptible to common illnesses due to the long-term impact chemo has on the immune system.
Around 30% of breast cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy.
We already know chemotherapy has a significant short-term impact on the immune system. The latest research found the effects of chemotherapy reduce some immune system components for at least nine months after chemotherapy ends. This lasting impact seems to imply that survivors may benefit from additional post-treatment care and follow up to reduce their risk of getting sick.
So what does this mean from a breast reconstruction perspective?
Being as healthy as possible is important before and after any surgery.
Typically, we like to give our patients 6 weeks recovery time from chemotherapy before undergoing breast reconstruction. For most patients, 6 weeks is sufficient for the immune system to recover prior to breast reconstruction surgery. A small number patients will need more time, or "booster" injections to help increase their white blood cell count. Low white blood cell counts increase the risk of infection and poor healing at surgery.
For patients undergoing reconstructive surgery before starting chemo, 4 weeks is usually enough time to allow for healing before the first round of chemotherapy. Again, this time frame can vary by patient. Delayed healing can in turn delay the start of chemotherapy.
The new findings on the long-term effects of chemotherapy on the immune system are important to consider regardless of when a patient will undergo breast reconstruction surgery. When preparing for surgery, it is important for patients to be as "tuned up" as possible from a health perspective to minimize the risk of complications. In addition to getting the "all clear" from your medical doctors, eat healthily, follow all pre- and post-operative instructions, and, of course... No smoking!