Researchers looked at data from nearly 41,000 women in the United States who had one breast removed between 2005 and 2012. Of those patients, about 11,800 also underwent breast reconstruction.
Patients ages 65 and older were less likely to have breast reconstruction than younger women. About 11 percent of older women chose to have the surgery compared to nearly 40 percent of women younger than 65, the study found.
Women who had breast reconstruction had more complications – such as longer hospital stays and repeat surgeries – than those who did not have breast reconstruction. However, overall complication rates after breast reconstruction were similar. About 7 percent of older women had complications, while slightly more than 5 percent of younger women did.
One exception was the risk of blood clot-related complications after breast reconstruction that used a patient’s own tissue instead of implants. The risk of a type of blood clot called a venous thromboembolism (VTE) was nearly four times higher among women 65 and older who had reconstruction using their own tissue. For women between 70 and 75, the risk of venous thromboembolism was more than six times higher, according to the study.
Venous thromboembolism includes deep vein thrombosis (a clot in the leg) and pulmonary embolism (a clot in the lungs). But the overall rate of venous thromboembolism was low – just 1 percent after reconstruction using a woman’s own tissue, the researchers found.
The study appears in the February issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
“Older patients should be counseled that their age does not confer an increased risk of complications after implant-based post-mastectomy breast reconstruction,” Dr. Mark Sisco, of NorthShore University Health System and the University of Chicago, and colleagues wrote in a journal news release.
“However, they should be counseled that their age may confer an increased risk of VTE,” they added.
Older women may need special attention to prevent venous thromboembolism after tissue-based breast reconstruction. One possibility is longer use of blood-thinning medications, the researchers said.