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Keywords:

  • breast reconstruction;
  • breast cancer;
  • review article;
  • surgery;
  • reconstructive surgery;
  • mastectomy

Psychological aspects of breast reconstruction: a review of the literature

Aim. This paper critically examines the research literature relating to the psychological aspects of breast reconstruction. Particular attention is given to the role of specialist breast care nurses in supporting women faced with the decision of whether or not to opt for reconstructive surgery.

Background. Breast reconstruction is intended to offer psychological benefits (e.g. improvements to quality of life, body image, anxiety and depression) to women treated by mastectomy following diagnosis of breast cancer.

Methods. A literature search was carried out on the PSYCHINFO, MEDLINE and CINAHL databases using the terms ‘breast reconstruction’, ‘mastectomy’, ‘reconstructive surgery’, ‘breast surgery’, ‘breast implants’, ‘transverse rectus adominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap’ and ‘Lat-dorsi’. Further relevant articles were identified from the reference lists of papers detected by this literature search. Finally, proceedings of recent psychological and surgical meetings were scrutinized to identify any conference papers on this topic.

Findings. A thorough search of the existing literature revealed a lack of theoretically based studies examining breast reconstruction in terms of relevant psychological constructs, especially in relation to coping and decision-making. This review highlights the methodological flaws with much of the existing research in this area, in particular the reliance upon retrospective designs and the inappropriate use of randomised controlled trials. Suggestions are given for further research in this topical area.

Conclusions. Existing research into the psychological aspects of breast reconstruction is limited and not sufficiently conclusive to inform changes to policy and the provision of care. More methodologically rigorous research is needed.