Reconstructing a lost breast can change your life

If you have lost a breast due to cancer or other condition, breast reconstruction can be a very physically and emotionally rewarding procedure.  A reconstructed breast will never look or feel exactly the same as the breast that was removed but it can can dramatically improve your self-image, self-confidence and quality of life.

To reconstruct a breast several plastic surgery techniques are combined in order to restore a breast to as near as possible normal shape, appearance, and size following mastectomy.  If only one breast is affected, it alone may be reconstructed.  In some cases a breast lift or breast augmentation may be recommended for the opposite breast to improve your body symmetry.

If you're considering breast reconstruction, this outline will give you a basic understanding of the procedure when it can help, how it's performed, and what results you can expect.  It can't answer all of your questions, since a lot depends on the individual patient and the surgeon.  Dr. Walker is more than happy to clarify any misunderstandings, please contact her office with any questions or concerns you may have.

What goes on during breast reconstruction surgery?

Step 1 - Anesthesia
Medications are administered for your comfort during the surgical procedure.

Step 2 -Surgical Options

Breast reconstruction can be performed either immediately or on a delayed basis.  Immediate reconstruction means the reconstruction performed at the time of mastectomy while a delayed reconstruction is performed at a later date.

A. Muscle Flap Reconstruction

Reposition existing muscle, fat, and skin and create a 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.  One technique uses donor muscle, fat and skin from a woman’s abdomen to reconstruct the breast. Other techniques do not use muscle but transport tissue to the chest from the abdomen or buttock.  Occasionally, the flap can reconstruct a complete breast mound, but often simply provides the muscle and tissue necessary to cover and support a breast implant.

B. Tissue Expander and Breast Implant Reconstruction

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.

C.Direct Placement of a Breast Implant

Surgical placement of a breast implant alone at time of mastectomy is becoming a popular alternative in selective reconstructive cases.  A breast implant may also 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.  In general, reconstruction with an implant usually requires tissue expansion.

Step 3 - 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.

If you have more questions about breast reconstruction surgery, take a look at our resources and education section.

Watch a Breast Reconstruction Overview from ASPS

The best candidates for breast reconstruction

Breast reconstruction is a good option for you if you have a positive outlook and realistic goals.  As well, if you are coping well with your diagnosis and treatment and you do not have additional medical conditions or other illnesses that may impair healing, you are likely a strong candidate.

Breast reconstruction typically involves several procedures performed in multiple stages.  It can 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.