Breast reconstruction helps patients who have undergone either a mastectomy or lumpectomy regain their confidence and sense of self. A cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment are some of the most emotionally and physically difficult journeys that any person will ever undergo, and the loss of one or both breasts can alter the way a woman views her body and her identity. Breast reconstruction restores the appearance of the breasts to allow women to regain their feminine physique and feel like their pre-cancer selves. Reconstruction can also restore breast symmetry by addressing the breast affected by mastectomy as well as the opposite breast.
Breast Reconstruction Candidates
Women who have undergone a mastectomy, partial mastectomy, or lumpectomy are candidates for breast reconstruction as long as they are healthy enough to heal from the surgery. While most women begin their reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy (immediate reconstruction), some women choose to wait months, or even years, to undergo delayed reconstruction; there is no time limit for candidacy. The most important thing is that the patient has a positive outlook and is emotionally ready for this next step. Breast reconstruction is a procedure that patients should undergo for themselves rather than to match anyone else’s standards. Therefore, this procedure should be done at your own time and pace.
Breast Reconstruction Procedure
Your oncologist and Dr. Rosen will work together to help determine the best options for you. Breast reconstruction has seen many improvements over the years and can provide natural-looking breasts. There are two common methods of reconstruction: the implant method and the flap method.
The implant method uses implants placed under the chest muscle to build the breast in a multi-step process. Dr. Rosen inserts an expander behind the chest muscle at the time of mastectomy to stretch the skin and develop a breast pocket. Over the course of the following weeks or months, a sterile saline solution is injected into the expander, which allows the skin to stretch and prepare itself to carry the weight of the implant. Once the skin has expanded enough, the permanent implant is inserted to replace the expander, and incisions are closed.
The flap method of breast reconstruction takes tissue from another part of the body to reconstruct the breast mound. Local flap reconstruction uses the patient’s own abdominal tissue to reconstruct the breast, while free flap reconstruction uses tissue from another part of the body. A flap of tissue from the patient’s back may be used in combination with implant reconstruction. As the flap method uses your own tissue, no foreign objects will be introduced to your system (unless it is combined with implant reconstruction). Although this technique is more invasive because the tissue is removed from another area of the body, many women feel like this technique results in a more natural-looking and natural-feeling breast.
Fat grafting involves liposuction to remove excess, unwanted fat from one area of the body and uses it to enhance another area. This method can add the patient’s own fat to the breasts to make them appear more natural.
After your reconstructed breast has healed and settled into place, nipple and areola reconstruction can be performed to provide you with natural-looking results.
For more information about breast reconstruction, please contact Cosmetic & Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and Dr. Rick Rosen, M.D., F.A.C.S. today to schedule your initial consultation.
The recovery period of your reconstruction will vary depending on the technique used. The flap method is the more complicated of the two, as you are operating on two areas of the body; additionally, the recovery may require a longer hospital stay with this method. Regardless of the technique, though, patients will experience some bruising, swelling, and soreness after the surgery. Prescription medications can remedy this discomfort. A support bra or surgical dressings will be worn to minimize swelling and support the reconstructed breast. Breast reconstruction will not interfere with additional cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.
The appearance of the reconstructed breast will improve as the tissues heal and/or the implant settles into place. Although the reconstructed breast may look and feel different from your natural breast, this will only be noticeable to you. Scars will fade with time. The results of your breast reconstruction are long lasting and will not interfere with any future mammograms or cancer screenings.