What Is Breast Reconstruction?

If you have to undergo a mastectomy, you’re probably worried about how your breast will look after surgery.  Fortunately, breast reconstruction can help improve self-esteem and boost overall well-being.  But what exactly is breast reconstruction? 

Breast Reconstruction

What is Breast Reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction, also known as reconstructive mammaplasty, is a surgical procedure that restores the shape and appearance of the breast after a mastectomy.   

A mastectomy involves the removal of the breast, nipple, and areola to treat breast cancer.  In some instances, women with a high risk of breast cancer opt to have a mastectomy to minimize their risk of developing the disease.

Breast reconstruction involves several procedures that rebuild the breast, areola, and nipple.  Reconstructive mammaplasty aims to create a breast that looks as natural as possible.  However, patients should be aware that the reconstructed breast will not look or feel like the natural breast.  

Breast reconstruction can be carried out at the same time as the mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or, it can be done months or years later (delayed reconstruction).  

To a large extent, the timing of breast reconstruction depends on the personal preferences of the patient.  However,  doctors often advise patients who have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy to delay breast reconstruction until cancer treatment is complete. 

Breast Reconstruction Procedures

Different techniques can be used to perform breast reconstruction including flap procedures and implants. 

Flap Reconstruction

Flap reconstruction uses tissue taken from other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, back, or buttocks, to rebuild the breast.   Flap reconstruction may involve the use of pedicle flaps or free flaps.

Pedicle flaps remain connected to their original blood supply, whereas free flaps are disconnected from the body.  The blood vessels from the flaps are reattached when they are transplanted to the breast area.  

Implant Reconstruction

Implant reconstruction involves the use of silicone or saline implants to recreate the breasts.  Silicone implants contain silicone gel, while saline implants are filled with sterile saltwater.  The breast implants are placed below the chest muscle (pectoralis major muscle).  

In some cases, a tissue expander may be placed under the skin before the implants are inserted.  The tissue expander is injected with saline solution over several weeks and gradually expands until it reaches the desired breast size.  When this process is complete, the expander is removed and the breast implant inserted.   

Breast reconstruction may sometimes require a combination of flap reconstruction and implant reconstruction.  

The Vectra 3D Imaging system is an advanced tool that can help patients undergoing breast reconstruction visualize how their breasts will look after surgery. 

What To Expect With Breast Reconstruction Surgery?

Breast reconstruction surgery is performed under general anesthesia.  The length of surgery varies depending on the procedure being done.

Patients usually have to remain in the hospital for 1-5 days after breast reconstruction.  Full recovery can take up to 6 weeks.   

Which Breast Reconstruction Procedure Is Right For You?

The right breast reconstruction option for you will depend on several factors including, your body type, breast shape, and lifestyle.  

Doctors sometimes recommend implant reconstruction for women with small breasts who have a lot of skin preserved after a mastectomy.  

If you are contemplating breast reconstruction, take the time to discuss the options with your surgeon, and ensure that you fully understand the pros and cons of surgery before making a decision.  It’s also important to have realistic expectations of the outcome before undergoing your procedure. 

Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer and having a mastectomy can be life-changing.  Breast reconstruction helps restore balance and proportion to the body along with a sense of self-confidence and wholeness.   

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