Breast cancer is an extremely terrifying and heartbreaking disease and it can leave you feeling both emotionally and physically altered. Breasts are a significant part of the female body, and removing them can be devastating. When you are facing breast cancer, you will have one of two options: for some women, a smaller surgery called a lumpectomy can be performed to remove only the cancerous tissue, but for others, one or both breasts must completely be removed in a process called a mastectomy (“double mastectomy” if both breasts are removed). While this information is scary, there IS a silver lining for breast cancer survivors, a plastic surgery procedure called a breast reconstruction. Your journey to a new, healthier body and mind is exciting and a little frightening, so we want to ease your stress by giving you the facts about breast reconstruction so you can make the best choice for your future.
Breast Reconstruction 101
- Breast reconstruction will include the replacement of the breast tissue, skin and nipple.
- You can use your own tissue or choose breast implants.
- It may be covered by your insurance.
- You can have your breast reconstruction at the same time as your mastectomy, or at a later date if you are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy.
- Nipple reconstruction will be a separate surgery after you have had time to heal from your breast reconstruction.
- Breast reconstruction DOES NOT affect the detection of cancer in future screenings.
Implant Reconstruction vs. Flap Reconstruction
The choice in the type of breast reconstruction you want to have is a deeply personal decision that should be carefully thought about and researched. There are risks and benefits to both procedures, so the verdict will be determined by your specific situation. You and your surgeon should thoroughly discuss both options before you make a final conclusion.
- Implant Reconstruction: An implant reconstruction is done in two stages, which means two separate surgeries for you. During the first surgery, a tissue expander will be placed under the skin so that the skin and chest muscles can expand before the placement of the implants. In the second surgery, your regular implants will replace the tissue expander. With this type of reconstruction, the benefits include: limited scars, faster recovery time and a shorter surgery period.
- Flap Reconstruction: There are basically two types of flap reconstruction: one where skin and tissue is removed from your back (called the latissimus flap) and the other is skin removed from your abdomen (called the TRAM flap). The TRAM flap reconstruction is more frequently used by plastic surgeons, is the most advanced procedure for breast reconstruction and is highly recommended. During the process, your surgeon will use muscle, fat, tissue and skin from your abdomen to recreate your breast mounds. The arteries and veins in the tissue that is being transferred will be reattached also. Using the TRAM flap will give your breasts a more “natural” feel, will last indefinitely and will integrate itself with your body so that if your weight changes, so will your breasts. There will be more scarring with this type of procedure, but the scar on the abdomen is usually below the bikini line and not visible while you are wearing clothes.
- Nipple Reconstruction: After your breast reconstruction, you may want to replace the nipple and areola also so that your breasts will look as natural as possible. The rebuilding of the nipple will come from the same tissue as your breast mound in your abdomen. Afterwards, you will receive a nipple tattoo that will give you the proper color of the nipple and areola.
Recovery and Risk Facts:
- Your surgery itself could take up to 4 hours and the recovery period is usually between 6-8 weeks before you can return to normal activity. You may spend time in the hospital depending on the type of procedure you have and whether or not you are healing properly without complications.
- The shape of your breast will gradually begin to improve after the swelling goes down, but it could take several months.
- You may not regain complete sensation in your breasts or nipples. You may only feel a numbness or tightness where the breasts have been reconstructed.
Our surgeons are committed to providing each woman the personalized care she needs during this time of rejuvenation and recovery. Give our office a call today to schedule a consultation.