Breast reconstruction surgery restores the appearance of a woman’s breasts after a mastectomy undertaken to treat or prevent cancer.
How can it help?
A mastectomy drastically alters body appearance and can negatively impact self-image. Women who choose to undergo breast reconstruction generally do so to return their bodies to their former shape and regain confidence in their appearance.
When is the right time?
When you have a mastectomy you must make many important decisions during a physically and emotionally challenging time. The first decision is whether to have breast reconstruction at all. If you want to proceed then you must decide whether to have reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy or sometime afterwards.
Immediate reconstruction, done in conjunction with the mastectomy, has the advantage of avoiding a second surgery. No scar tissue has formed from the mastectomy and the remaining breast skin is still stretched to the original size and shape of your breast, so the results of reconstruction are likely to be better.
Delayed reconstruction may be recommended in cases involving intermediate or advanced breast cancer. Sometimes patients opt to wait simply because they need more time to think through their options.
Once you have decided to have a breast reconstruction, you need to decide between having your breast replaced with an implant or an autologous tissue flap (your own body tissue). An implant is the most popular option because of the aesthetic appearance and minimal surgery time. Read our article on breast augmentation to find out more about implants.
Autologous tissue flap is a transplant of live skin, fat and muscle from another part of the body (usually the abdomen, buttock, thigh or hip). The advantage of this procedure is that the reconstructed breast remains live tissue, so the body will not reject it.
Grafting techniques are available that can create an areola and nipple. This is often done in a later operation. Once the new breast has been done, the opposite breast may need to be lifted, reduced or augmented to achieve symmetry.