Breast reconstruction is a surgical procedure that helps women with the physical and emotional effects of undergoing a mastectomy. A partial or full mastectomy of one or both breasts is performed either after a breast cancer diagnosis or as a preventative measure for women who are predisposed to the illness. Reconstructing the breasts can help women who are struggling with the emotional and physical effects of a mastectomy regain and enhance confidence and comfort in their bodies.
Most women who have undergone or are expecting to undergo either a partial or full mastectomy are candidates for breast reconstruction. This procedure is either performed in conjunction with the mastectomy or at a later date; the timing may depend on factors, such as:
Breast reconstruction aims to restore a natural appearance to the breast that either was or will be surgically removed. There are several different breast reconstruction techniques. The specific method for you will be determined during your consultations with Dr. Cha and your breast cancer surgeon.
Breast reconstruction with implants is very similar to breast augmentation with implants in that either a silicone or saline implant is used to restore volume to the breast. With this technique, a tissue expander is placed beneath the pectoral muscles either at the time of the mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or after you have healed from your mastectomy and determined that you want reconstruction (delayed reconstruction). This tissue expander is gradually filled with a saline solution for several weeks to stretch the skin to the point where an implant can be placed. Implants are available in many different sizes and shapes to allow for proper symmetry as well as a natural appearance of the breasts.
Breast reconstruction with the flap method involves rebuilding the breast using your own tissue instead of implants. With this technique, flaps of tissue are removed from the back, abdomen, or buttocks, and relocated to the breasts. Although this technique requires a more extensive recovery period, it is thought that flap reconstruction can create a breast that feels more natural.
Some women who undergo a mastectomy and breast reconstruction still suffer insecurity from the lack of a defined nipple as the nipple is almost always removed during a mastectomy. Nipple reconstruction is performed after either the implant or tissue flap has been inserted and has healed. The nipple is tattooed onto the breast to restore the appearance of the nipple-areola complex.
Recovery for your breast reconstruction will depend on the type of reconstruction you have and the timing of your reconstruction. Traditionally, reconstruction with implants is quicker and more comfortable than that of reconstruction with the flap method. Regardless of the technique, however, you can expect to experience bruising, swelling, and discomfort after your surgery. A post-surgical compression garment will be worn over the breasts for several weeks to minimize swelling and post-operative pain as well as to aid in the healing process and encourage proper blood circulation. Most patients can resume work within two weeks; however, it is suggested that all strenuous activity is limited or avoided for at least six weeks. Dr. Cha will give you instructions regarding when you can resume your normal routines.
Breast reconstruction allows women a sense of normalcy and comfort after a breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy. The results of your breast reconstruction will be apparent after all post-operative bruising and swelling subside. This swelling can take several weeks or even months to dissipate fully.
Scarring will be present at all incision sites from both the mastectomy and reconstruction procedures. These scars will fade with time, and most women consider this scarring to be minor based on the alternative.