For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, mastectomy, or breast removal, is often required. Women who have undergone this surgery can choose to have breast reconstruction. This procedure recreates the size and shape of the patient’s natural breast and can renew a woman’s sense of beauty and femininity. Immediate reconstruction can be performed at the time of the mastectomy. Delayed reconstruction can be performed months or even years after the mastectomy.
The Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Many techniques are available for breast reconstruction. Tissue expansion (using an inflatable device placed beneath the chest muscle) and various muscle flap procedures are used. The procedure used is determined based upon many factors. During a consultation, your surgeon will help you determine the best technique for your situation. In tissue expansion, an inflatable device is placed beneath the chest muscle. Over a period of weeks, the surgeon injects saline solution into the expander through a tiny valve that lies just below the skin’s surface. Once the skin has stretched sufficiently, the doctor removes the expander and replaces it with a permanent implant. A final operation reconstructs the nipple and areola (the dark skin surrounding the nipple). In some cases, no tissue expansion is required and the permanent implant can be inserted during the initial surgery.
Breast reconstruction can also be accomplished through a technique called flap reconstruction. In one approach, the surgeon creates a flap of chest tissue (skin, fat, and muscle still attached to its blood supply) that serves as a pocket for an implant or as the chest mound itself. The surgeon may decide to create flap tissue from the abdomen, thigh, or buttocks and relocate it to the chest area. Breast reconstruction generally involves multiple procedures, and it is usually performed under general anesthesia. Cessation of all nicotine products is strongly urged three weeks pre and post operatively. Smoking before following surgery increases the visibility of scarring and causes problems with healing.
After Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Following the surgery, patients experience some fatigue and soreness for several weeks. Postoperative conditions such as bruising, swelling, and discomfort are typically reduced through medication. Most of these procedures can be performed with a 23-hour hospitalization.