Cancer itself or cancer treatments may affect the way your body works or looks. When this happens, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and the UW Center for Reconstructive Surgery provide expert solutions. UW Medicine’s reconstructive plastic surgeons help to improve function, change appearance or both for patients who get cancer care through Fred Hutch.
We offer a wide range of methods to help you look and feel restored. As always, we fit your care to your exact case as well as your goals, preferences and values. Reconstructive procedures for Fred Hutch patients take place at UW Medical Center – Montlake and UW Medical Center – Northwest.
For people with cancer, reconstructive surgery is done to correct, improve or change function or appearance when cancer or its treatment affects the body.
Reconstructive surgery is different from cosmetic surgery. The goal is to restore function or form that was altered. Cosmetic surgery is done when a person chooses to change the look of a healthy body part that is “normal” or typical. It is elective surgery.
— Shannon M. Colohan, MD, reconstructive plastic surgeon
UW Medicine reconstructive surgeons treat people with many types of cancer or related conditions, including these:
There are many options for breast reconstruction for people with breast cancer who are interested. If you are having a mastectomy, we offer both implants (using synthetic materials) and natural tissue procedures (using tissue from your own body). We also offer options to preserve or restore your breast shape after a lumpectomy.
Based on your wishes and your treatment needs, you may be able to have reconstruction during the surgery to remove the cancer. Or you may be able to wait to have reconstruction later. Read more about breast cancer treatment and breast reconstruction.
During surgery to treat colon or rectal cancer, some patients need reconstruction of the pelvis or perineum. The options depend on the exact surgery being done for the cancer. If needed, our skilled reconstruction team does procedures to cover and close the perineal area or place tissue in the pelvis. We do this using tissue from another part of your body (flap reconstruction), often the abdomen or thigh.
In most cases, our colorectal and reconstructive surgeons work together to remove the cancer and do the reconstruction during the same surgery. Read more about colon cancer treatment and rectal cancer treatment.
Lymphedema is a type of swelling that can happen when surgery or radiation therapy affects lymph flow. Our reconstructive surgeons offer advanced methods to prevent or treat it. Preventive options include:
We also offer methods to treat lymphedema after it starts. These include:
Read more about lymphedema.
The same surgeon who removes skin cancer may be able to close the area by bringing the edges around the wound together. If the wound is too large or the cancer went too deep for this approach, our reconstructive surgeons offer more options. These include:
Read more about treatment for melanoma, Merkel cell carcinoma and skin cancer.
Sarcoma may affect soft tissues, like skin and muscles, as well as bones. If your sarcoma surgeon needs to take out soft tissue or bone to remove a tumor, our reconstructive surgeons can help restore the area. They may use nearby soft tissue (local tissue rearrangement) or tissue from another part of your body (flap reconstruction). When bones are involved, UW Medicine orthopedic surgeons offer options like bone transplants, joint replacements and metal implants. Read more about sarcoma treatment.
Cancer of the vulva is often a type of skin cancer. In many cases, the gynecologic oncologist who removes the tumor is also able to close the area. When the cancer surgery is more extensive, a reconstructive surgeon is often involved. Often, they use skin from the same region of the body and rearrange it to make a new surface for the labia. If more tissue is needed, the surgeon may use tissue from your abdomen or thigh. Read more about vulvar cancer treatment.
Some UW Medicine surgeons who remove tumors also provide reconstruction, when needed, for several other cancer types, including these:
Your first appointment to discuss reconstructive surgery is a time for you and your surgery team to meet. You will talk about your diagnosis and how reconstructive surgery may fit into your treatment plan. Typically, Fred Hutch patients have already seen other members of their Fred Hutch care team and know the plan for treating their cancer before coming to see us about reconstructive surgery. We adapt the process and timing to meet your needs.
Your first appointment is also a time for the reconstructive surgery team to start getting to know you personally. This helps us tailor our recommendations to you based on your treatment plan, preferences and goals. Together, you and your care team decide what to do next.
We encourage everyone to bring a family member or friend to their first appointment (and any future visits).
Meet the Care Team from UW Center for Reconstructive Surgery
First appointments usually last up to one hour. Here is what you can expect to happen.
At Fred Hutch and UW Medicine, our physicians and researchers are always asking how we can make treatment better and reduce side effects. This is why we do research, including clinical trials. Through these studies, we are able to offer you therapies that are not available everywhere.
Our experts have done research on a range of topics that relate to reconstructive surgery, such as: