Breast cancer treatment often requires the removal of one or both breasts, known as mastectomy. Most women eventually opt for breast reconstruction surgery after mastectomy to lessen the psychological impact of cancer and the necessary treatments.
The breast reconstruction process helps patients to regain their self-confidence about their appearance during cancer recovery.
Before having this procedure, it’s important to gather as much information as you can. Below, learn about different kinds of breast reconstruction, and more.
Breast Reconstruction Overview
Breast reconstruction comes in many forms, but it is a major surgery that reforms or reshapes the breast after mastectomy or lumpectomy.
During a mastectomy, the surgeon removes the entire breast, as well as the nipple and areola, to treat breast cancer. A lumpectomy removes a part of the breast that contains a small tumor.
There are many considerations when deciding the best breast construction for your situation, but all are major surgery with an extensive recovery.
There are two major breast reconstruction options:
- Silicone or saline breast implants, which are usually used in breast augmentation and breast lifts
- Skin flap surgery that uses skin from another body area
Your surgeon also can combine implants with skin flap surgery to provide a more natural-looking result. Other methods can help your surgeon rebuild the nipple and areola if cancer affected them.
This procedure can be done immediately after the mastectomy or lumpectomy, or it can be done weeks or months later. Some patients may need to delay breast reconstruction if they are still having cancer treatments.
Breast Reconstruction With Breast Implants
When the surgeon performs breast reconstruction with implants, they insert silicone or saline breast implants under the muscle or skin.
Most people have an implant as a two-part procedure. During the first surgery, the doctor inserts a tissue expander under the breast skin or chest muscle during the first surgery. The expander is a temporary implant that stretches the tissue to make room for the permanent implant.
After the patient heals, the plastic surgeon injects saline solution into the implant over several weeks. The balloon slowly grows and stretches the tissue until it makes enough room for the breast implant.
After the chest tissue heals and the surgeon has put in enough saline to prepare for the implant, they do the second procedure.
The plastic surgeon removes the tissue expander and replaces it with a saline or silicone implant. Usually, the surgeon uses the existing scar for the new incision, so there is only one permanent scar.
Breast Reconstruction With Skin Flap Surgery
With this procedure, the plastic surgeon removes tissue from another part of the body and transfers it to the chest to make a new breast.
The plastic surgeon usually takes the skin and tissue from the abdomen, but it also can be sourced from the back, buttock, or thigh.
Skin flap surgery is a major surgery that takes a high degree of surgical skill. There are two procedures to consider:
- Free flap
- Pedicle flap
The plastic surgeon removes the skin, tissue, and blood vessels with the free flap procedure. Next, they stitch the tissue’s blood vessels into blood vessels in the breast where it will be placed. The blood vessels are tiny, so the surgeon uses a microscope to bring them together.
The pedicle flap procedure does not remove the transferred tissue from its native blood supply entirely. Instead, the tissue stays attached to the donor site, and the surgeon brings it up to the chest to make a new breast.
Choosing Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Deciding to have breast reconstruction surgery is an important personal choice. After mastectomy, many patients mourn the loss of the breast. In addition, they may have serious problems with self-confidence and anxiety after the procedure.
Fortunately, breast reconstruction surgery is available to rebuild the breast and return a sense of normality to your life.
However, you and your surgeon need to make some important decisions before the procedure:
- Which kind of breast reconstruction to have
- When to have breast reconstruction surgery
- Whether to have the procedure on one or both breasts to match the rebuilt one
Some of the factors that may help you and your surgeon pick the right procedure for you include:
- Your overhaul health, including whether you are a smoker
- Where the cancer is and how severe it is
- The kind of cancer treatments you received and will in the future
- Whether you need breast reconstruction on one or both breasts
- How many surgeries you can tolerate
- How fast you want to recover from breast reconstruction
- Whether your health insurance covers elective or cosmetic procedures
Breast Reconstruction Recovery
Both types of breast reconstruction will leave you unable to do your daily activities for about eight weeks. However, the lengthy recovery should be considered in light of how challenging it is over years to lose one or both breasts.
During the recovery, you will probably be tired and experience pain, soreness, and bruising at the breast and tissue donor sites. You also will be somewhat restricted in movements, such as raising your arms over the head.
Your surgeon will prescribe pain medication and antibiotics to keep you comfortable and prevent infections.
Note that your reconstructed breast will not look exactly like a natural breast, and there will be a lack of sensation. But nerves often regenerate after months or years.
Breast reconstruction involves significant surgery and a lengthy recovery, but most patients find the results worth it. So talk to your plastic surgeon soon about the breast reconstruction options available.
Request a Houston Breast Reconstruction Consultation
Interested in breast reconstruction in Houston? Please set up a consultation with Dr. Ashley Steinberg today. She’ll talk to you about the benefits and risks of breast reconstruction so you can decide if you want to move forward.
What To Know About Breast Reconstruction Surgery. (2019). Accessed at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319215#recovery
Breast Reconstruction With Flap Surgery. (n.d.). Accessed at https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-reconstruction-flap/about/pac-20384937
Breast Reconstruction With Implants. (n.d.). Accessed at https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-reconstruction-implants/about/pac-20384934