What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is achieved through several plastic surgery techniques that attempt to restore a breast to near normal shape, appearance and size following mastectomy.
Although breast reconstruction can rebuild your breast, the results are highly variable:
A reconstructed breast will not have the same sensation and feel as the breast it replaces.
Visible incision lines will always be present on the breast, whether from reconstruction or mastectomy.
Certain surgical techniques will leave incision lines at the donor site, commonly located in less exposed areas of the body such as the back, abdomen or buttocks.
Breast reconstruction candidates
Breast reconstruction is a highly individualized procedure. You should do it for yourself, not to fulfill someone else’s desires or to try to fit any sort of ideal image.
Breast reconstruction is a good option for you if:
You are able to cope well with your diagnosis and treatment
You do not have additional medical conditions or other illnesses that may impair healing
You have a positive outlook and realistic goals for restoring your breast and body image
Breast reconstruction typically involves several procedures performed in multiple stages.
Begin at the same time as mastectomy, or
Be delayed until you heal from mastectomy and recover from any additional cancer treatments
It’s important that you feel ready for the emotional adjustment involved in breast reconstruction. It may take some time to accept the results of breast reconstruction.
Breast reconstruction is a physically and emotionally rewarding procedure for a woman who has lost a breast due to cancer or other condition.
The creation of a new breast can dramatically improve your self-image, self-confidence and quality of life. Although surgery can give you a relatively natural-looking breast, a reconstructed breast will never look or feel exactly the same as the breast that was removed.
Breast reconstruction procedural steps
What happens during breast reconstruction surgery?
Step 1 – Anesthesia
Medications are administered for your comfort during the surgical procedure. The choices include intravenous sedation and general anesthesia. Your doctor will recommend the best choice for you.
Step 2 – Flap techniques reposition a woman’s own muscle, fat and skin to create or cover the breast mound.
Sometimes a mastectomy or radiation therapy will leave insufficient tissue on the chest wall to cover and support a breast implant. The use of a breast implant for reconstruction almost always requires either a flap technique or tissue expansion.
A TRAM flap uses donor muscle, fat and skin from a woman’s abdomen to reconstruct the breast. The flap may either remain attached to the original blood supply and be tunneled up through the chest wall, or be completely detached, and formed into a breast mound.
A latissimus dorsi flap uses muscle, fat and skin from the back tunneled to the mastectomy site and remains attached to its donor site, leaving blood supply intact.
Breast Reconstruction Latissimus Dorsi Flap Breast Reconstruction Latissimus Dorsi Flap
Occasionally, the flap can reconstruct a complete breast mound, but often provides the muscle and tissue necessary to cover and support a breast implant.
Step 3 – Tissue expansion stretches healthy skin to provide coverage for a breast implant.
Reconstruction with tissue expansion allows an easier recovery than flap procedures, but it is a more lengthy reconstruction process.
It requires many office visits over 4-6 months after placement of the expander to slowly fill the device through an internal valve to expand the skin.
A second surgical procedure will be needed to replace the expander if it is not designed to serve as a permanent implant.
Step 4 – Surgical placement of a breast implant creates a breast mound.
A breast implant can be an addition or alternative to flap techniques. Saline and silicone implants are available for reconstruction.
Your surgeon will help you decide what is best for you. Reconstruction with an implant alone usually requires tissue expansion.
Step 5 – Grafting and other specialized techniques create a nipple and areola.
Breast reconstruction is completed through a variety of techniques that reconstruct the nipple and areola
Breast reconstruction results
The final results of breast reconstruction following mastectomy can help lessen the physical and emotional impact of mastectomy.
Over time, some breast sensation may return, and scar lines will improve, although they’ll never disappear completely.
There are trade-offs, but most women feel these are small compared to the large improvement in their quality of life and the ability to look and feel whole.
Careful monitoring of breast health through self-exam, mammography and other diagnostic techniques is essential to your long-term health.