Breast reconstruction is a procedure that restores one or both breasts to a natural shape, size, and appearance. Many women desire to have their reconstructed breast(s) be similar to their original breast(s), but each patient can choose how she would like the results of her reconstruction to look and feel. If only one breast needs reconstruction, a breast lift, breast reduction, or breast augmentation can be performed on the opposite breast to make the breasts as symmetrical as possible.
Breast reconstruction can help reduce the physical and emotional effects of having partial or all breast tissue removed by restoring a more feminine shape to the breast and improving the woman’s self-image. Choosing to undergo breast reconstruction is a highly personal decision, and patients should decide based on their own desires rather than outside influences.
Mastectomy is one of the most common treatments for breast cancer, and it involves the surgical removal of breast tissue. Patients who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer may also undergo this procedure as a preventive measure. Depending on the patient’s individual circumstances, breast reconstruction may be performed at the same time as the mastectomy, or reconstruction may be delayed until after the patient has healed and/or additional cancer treatments have been performed.
Various techniques are available to preserve or reconstruct the nipple and areola. During your consultation, your surgeon will explain all of the options available to you.
Implant vs. Tissue Flap
Expander and Implant Reconstruction
A tissue expander is temporarily inserted into the breast pocket to stretch the breast tissue so that it can adequately cover an implant. Over the course of several weeks, the expander is progressively filled with a saline solution through an internal valve. Once the breast tissue is stretched enough, the expander is replaced by a breast implant. This technique takes longer to achieve the final breast reconstruction than the tissue flap method, but it allows for an easier recovery.
Tissue Flap Reconstruction
This method of reconstruction uses tissue from another area of the patient’s body, such as the back, thigh, or abdomen, to reconstruct the breast mound or to provide enough tissue to cover an implant. The new breast tissue may remain connected to the original blood supply through blood vessels tunnelled beneath the skin to the donor site, or it may be detached and rely on the growth of new blood vessels (tissue graft). If the flap is being used to provide tissue coverage, an implant will be inserted beneath it.