Research Article| Volume 72, ISSUE 4, P539-547, April 2019

First look: A mixed-methods study exploring women's initial experiences of their appearance after mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction

Published:January 14, 2019DOI:



      Increasing numbers of women are undergoing appearance-altering surgery for the treatment and/or prevention of breast cancer. However, women's experiences of seeing the results of their breast surgery for the first time, and the support available to them, are currently omitted from the research literature. This study aimed to explore women's initial experiences of seeing their appearance after mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction.


      An online mixed-methods survey explored participants’ feelings and expectations before seeing their breast surgery for the first time, their experiences of looking at the results of their surgery, and the support they received.


      Women (n = 128) who had undergone mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction following a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer, DCIS or increased risk of breast cancer participated. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and qualitative content analysis.


      Most respondents had worried about looking at their breast/breast area for the first time, with 75% concerned about what they would see. Women found the experience moderately distressing, and younger women were particularly concerned about other people's reactions to their altered appearance. Approximately half of the women (51%) felt they received enough support, while 29% thought this aspect of care could be improved. Areas for improvement were suggested, including increased preparation, privacy and support.


      Women's experiences of looking at their breast/breast area and any donor site after surgery vary considerably. The results indicate important implications for provision of care and further research.


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