Skip to content

Blog

Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Posted in Breast, Plastic Surgery

doctor holding three breast implants

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here, and with it comes opportunities to learn about this devastating disease. While a breast cancer diagnosis is a scary thing for any woman, it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, with a five-year survival rate of over 89%. The most effective means of treating the disease is a mastectomy, or total removal of the breast, to prevent spreading. Following the mastectomy procedure, many women elect to undergo breast reconstruction to restore their breasts to their original shapes and sizes.

Why Breast Reconstruction?

The choice to have breast reconstruction surgery is highly personal, and should be undergone only after careful consideration of all options. Breast reconstruction, or reconstruction mammaplasty, is a procedure in which one or both breasts are surgically recreated. Many women find that breast reconstruction improves their confidence and helps them feel the way they did prior to their mastectomies.

You may have heard that breast reconstruction allows the disease to come back and can hide the return of breast cancer, but that is almost never the case, according to the American Cancer Society. However, just to be safe, the ACS recommends that if you have a type of reconstructive surgery that uses a breast implant, you get all future mammograms at facilities employing technicians specially trained to work around them to get the best possible images.

Explore Your Options

Breast reconstruction surgery can be achieved through several different methods, allowing a skilled reconstructive surgeon to create new breasts that look and feel natural. In order to undergo any type of breast reconstruction, it is important that you are in good physical health with no major medical conditions that may complicate the healing process. The two basic types of breast reconstruction are implant-based and autologous (using your own skin and tissue) reconstruction. Autologous reconstruction is also referred to as “tissue flap” reconstruction.

For best results, breast reconstruction procedures are performed immediately after a mastectomy while the patient is still under anesthesia, but this is not always possible. Reconstruction may be performed later in some cases, usually because the patient will require further treatment for their cancer after their mastectomy.

Implant-based reconstruction is generally simpler because the surgery is localized to the breasts only, and no additional surgical sites are created. There are several different types of breast implants and various surgical methods to place them in the breast. Your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of saline versus silicone or alternative implants and determine which is best for you. Breast implants may be put in through the nipple or an incision in the armpit.

Autologous reconstruction is performed by taking a flap of skin and fatty tissue from another area of the body and using it to create a new breast shape. These procedures leave more visible scars, and the recovery period is often more difficult. Autologous reconstruction is a very delicate, complicated procedure, and not all plastic surgeons offer it. While it is not the right option for everyone, when it is successful, it results in new breasts that look, move, and feel more natural than implants.

Dr. Livingston performs flap reconstruction using the TRAM (Transverse Rectus Abdominus) flap technique and the Latissimus Dorsi flap technique, using tissue from the abdomen and back, respectively. One advantage to the TRAM technique is that is uses tissue that would ordinarily be discarded following an abdominoplasty. Patients who undergo TRAM reconstruction are essentially getting a tummy tuck as part of the reconstruction procedure.

After recreating the shape and fullness of the breast, it may be necessary to create a new nipple and areola. This will be done in a separate procedure after the reconstructed breast has healed. Tissue for a new nipple can be taken from the ear, eyelid, groin, or other areas of the body, and then tattooed to look like your original nipple. In some cases, it may be preferable to tattoo the new nipple onto the breast without using tissue from another part of the body. A skilled reconstructive surgeon can use multiple shades of pigment to create a nipple that looks three dimensional.

What to Expect

Having realistic expectations is crucial. It is often helpful to talk to other women who have undergone reconstruction surgery and hear about their experiences. Many breast cancer communities exist online where survivors can support each other, discuss their recovery and reconstruction, and even share pictures of their reconstructed breasts. You may find it beneficial to hear first-hand accounts from women who have been through this procedure before.

After surgery, you will likely feel sore and tired for a few weeks. You will be sent home from the hospital after 1-6 days, and may be discharged with drains in place to help remove fluid as your breasts heal. It may take up to eight weeks for swelling to go down and allow you to see the final results. It is normal to not have regular feeling in the new breast, although it sometimes returns slowly over a period of years. You will need to wear a special bra to support the tissue as it heals, and will need to take it very slowly returning to your previous level of physical activity.

Just as it takes time to get used to the absence of your breast after a mastectomy, it takes time to get used to having a new breast. There may be a period of time where the new breast feels strange or foreign to you, which some patients can find quite distressing. It may be helpful to speak to a professional to work through your feelings about the changes in your body.

Breast Reconstruction in Houston

Undergoing breast reconstruction is a very personal decision which should not be made lightly. Contact Livingston Plastic Surgery for more information about breast reconstruction, and to discuss which options might be best for you.