Breast Reconstruction Surgery After Breast Cancer
If you are a woman who has undergone a mastectomy, you may be considering breast reconstruction surgery. This type of surgery can help you regain your sense of self and femininity after a life-changing event. It can also improve your self-image and boost your confidence.
It replaces the breast tissue that was removed during surgery, as well as any skin, nipple, and areola. Breast reconstruction may be done simultaneously as your mastectomy or later on.
Choosing an experienced and skilled surgeon for this type of surgery is essential because of a complex procedure.
What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is a procedure that restores the shape of your breast after a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Breast reconstruction aims to provide you with a natural-looking breast contour and restore your feminine appearance following cancer treatment.
Types Of Breast Reconstruction Procedures
There are numerous types of breast reconstruction surgery, and the best option for you will depend on your situation. Your surgeon will work with you to choose the best type of surgery for your needs.
Breast cancer survivors can choose from several types of breast reconstruction surgery, but there are two main types of breast reconstruction. The most popular type of breast reconstruction surgery is using breast implants. Other options include using tissue from another part of your body or combining implants.
After removing one or both breasts, an implant is placed under the chest muscles and fat. This type of reconstruction has been done for more than 30 years and can produce a natural look and feel.
Breast implant reconstruction uses silicone or saline implants to create new breasts that look and feel like natural breasts. Surgeons can use this method for both primary and secondary reconstructions.
Implant-based reconstruction surgery works well as long as you haven’t had radiation therapy on your chest wall or those with very little breast tissue left after their cancer treatment.
In rare cases, implants can cause capsular contracture — scar tissue around the implant that causes pain, swelling, and breast deformation.
And reconstruction using implants may be more successful than using tissue from another part of your body because it’s easier to sculpt an implant into a natural look than to use grafted tissue.
Autologous Tissue Reconstruction
Autologous tissue reconstruction uses your tissue (usually fat or muscle) to firm breasts. This method is usually reserved for patients with bilateral mastectomies or significant scarring from their cancer treatment, making it challenging to use implants.
This technique uses skin, blood vessels, muscle, fat tissue, nerves, and lymph nodes from another area on your body (usually the abdomen) to reconstruct the breast mound after mastectomy surgery.
Autologous can use a free flap or a pedicled flap technique. Let’s find out more on the same below!
Free flap reconstruction
Free flap reconstruction uses tissues from the abdomen, back, buttocks, or inner thighs. The tissue can be picked up and relocated to a new location in your chest after being disconnected from its original blood arteries.
Free flaps are often used when radiation therapy has damaged the skin overlying your chest wall or when there isn’t enough tissue left after your mastectomy.
Alternatively, the tissue can be relocated under your skin to your chest while remaining connected to its original blood veins. The tissue is shaped into a breast and sewn into both forms.
It is commonly known as a “pedicled flap.” Pedicled flaps have been in existence for a long and are easily manageable. But for free flap reconstruction, there’s a need for a plastic surgeon to have skills in microsurgery. The surgery requires connecting the tissue flap to the vessels in the chest area such that the new breast receives adequate blood supply.
If you want lasting results, autologous reconstruction is the best choice; the results last long. However, implants may need a substitute after 10 to 20 years. Furthermore, the tissue on your belly, buttocks and upper thighs looks and feels like breast tissue, so it’s a good alternative.
However, similar to implant reconstruction, the new breast, like the implant reconstruction, will have minimal to no sensation.
The Dangers And Side Effects Of Breast Reconstruction
Breast reconstruction carries the same dangers as other surgical procedures: infection and bleeding. The outcome depends on the treatment used and how much tissue was left over after breast cancer surgery and radiotherapy.
After surgery, you’ll probably have little or no sensation in your newly restored breasts. You might restore some skin sensation over time. But it won’t be the same as before.
Breast reconstruction surgery complications can include:
- Breasts of varying sizes or shapes. One can be firmer than the other. It’s possible that the nipples and areolas aren’t symmetrical.
- Bruising or scarring around the breasts that have been rebuilt.
- After flap surgery, the transplanted tissue dies (necrosis).
- Implant-related complications (for implant reconstruction). Wrinkling, rippling, and implant ruptures (tears) are examples of these issues.
- After a flap rebuilding procedure, there is weakness, soreness, or sensitivity at the donor site. The lower belly, thigh, back, and bottom are possible donor sites.
Why Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
- Build up or reshape the remaining breast tissue after a mastectomy
- Establish symmetry in the size and shape of both breasts after a mastectomy
- Help rebuild normal nipple-areola complexes
How Do I Know Which Breast Reconstruction Surgery I Should Have?
The best way to find out is by talking to a board-certified plastic surgeon. They’ll be able to recommend the perfect procedure depending on your unique situation, including:
- Your age and health status
- The type and size of your breasts before your cancer treatment
- The extent of your cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, can affect how fast your body recovers
- How much time has passed since your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment ended
- Whether or not you’ve had radiation therapy to your chest wall
What Are the Costs?
When it comes to costs, no one size fits all. The costs vary depending on the surgical costs, facility fee, surgeon’s fee, medication after surgery, tests, and imaging.
So, while settling for a board-certified plastic surgeon, remember that their experience contributes a lot to the final expense.
All in all, breast reconstruction surgery is a very personal decision. It is essential to do your research and consult with your doctor to see if it is the right choice. There are many different options available, so there will be a perfect method for you and your needs.