Breast Reconstruction Frequently Asked Questions
- Am I a good candidate for this procedure?
- What is breast reconstruction?
- Where and how will you perform my procedure?
- How long of a recovery period can I expect, and what kind of help will I need during my recovery?
- What are the risks and complications associated with my procedure and how are they handled?
1. Am I a good candidate for this procedure?
Breast reconstruction is a highly individualized procedure. You should do it for yourself, not to fulfill someone else’s desires or to try to fit any sort of ideal image.
Breast reconstruction is a good option for you if:
- You are able to cope well with your diagnosis and treatment
- You do not have additional medical conditions or other illnesses that may impair healing
- You have a positive outlook and realistic goals for restoring your breast and body image
Breast reconstruction typically involves several procedures performed in multiple stages. It can:
- Begin at the same time as mastectomy, or
- Be delayed until you heal from mastectomy and recover from any additional cancer treatments
It’s important that you feel ready for the emotional adjustment involved in breast reconstruction. It may take some time to accept the results of breast reconstruction. Breast reconstruction is a physically and emotionally rewarding procedure for a woman who has lost a breast due to cancer or other condition. The creation of a new breast can dramatically improve your self-image, self-confidence and quality of life. Although surgery can give you a relatively natural-looking breast, a reconstructed breast will never look or feel exactly the same as the breast that was removed.
2. What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is achieved through several plastic surgery techniques that attempt to restore a breast to near normal shape, appearance and size following mastectomy.
Although breast reconstruction can rebuild your breast, the results are highly variable:
- A reconstructed breast will not have the same sensation and feel as the breast it replaces.
- Visible incision lines will always be present on the breast, whether from reconstruction or mastectomy.
- Certain surgical techniques will leave incision lines at the donor site, commonly located in less exposed areas of the body such as the back, abdomen or buttocks.
A note about symmetry: If only one breast is affected, it alone may be reconstructed. In addition, a breast lift, breast reduction or breast augmentation may be recommended for the opposite breast to improve symmetry of the size and position of both breasts.
3. Where and how will you perform my procedure?
Surgery for your breast reconstruction is most often performed in a hospital setting under general anesthesia, possibly including a short hospital stay. Some follow-up procedures may be performed on an outpatient basis, and local anesthesia with sedation may be used. These decisions will be based on the requirements of your specific procedure and in consideration of your preferences and Dr. Hsu’s best judgment.
Breast Reconstruction procedural steps:
Step 1 - Anesthesia
Medications are administered for your comfort during the surgical procedure. The choices include intravenous sedation and general anesthesia.
Step 2 - Flap techniques reposition your own muscle, fat and skin to create or cover the breast mound.
Sometimes a mastectomy or radiation therapy will leave insufficient tissue on the chest wall to cover and support a breast implant. The use of a breast implant for reconstruction almost always requires either a flap technique or tissue expansion.
A TRAM flap uses donor muscle, fat and skin from a woman’s abdomen to reconstruct the breast. The flap may either remain attached to the original blood supply and be tunneled up through the chest wall, or be completely detached, and formed into a breast mound.
Alternatively, Dr. Hsu may choose the DIEP or SGAP flap techniques which do not use muscle but transport tissue to the chest from the abdomen or buttock. A latissimus dorsi flap uses muscle, fat and skin from the back tunneled to the mastectomy site and remains attached to its donor site, leaving blood supply intact. Occasionally, the flap can reconstruct a complete breast mound, but often provides the muscle and tissue necessary to cover and support a breast implant.
Step 3 - Tissue expansion stretches healthy skin to provide coverage for a breast implant.
Reconstruction with tissue expansion allows an easier recovery than flap procedures, but it is a more lengthy reconstruction process. It requires many office visits over 4-6 months after placement of the expander to slowly fill the device through an internal valve to expand the skin. A second surgical procedure will be needed to replace the expander if it is not designed to serve as a permanent implant.
Step 4 - Surgical placement of a breast implant creates a breast mound.
A breast implant can be an addition or alternative to flap techniques. Saline and silicone implants are available for reconstruction. Dr. Hsu will help you decide what is best for you. Reconstruction with an implant alone usually requires tissue expansion.
Step 5 - Grafting and other specialized techniques create a nipple and areola.
Breast reconstruction is completed through a variety of techniques that reconstruct the nipple and areola.
4. How long of a recovery period can I expect, and what kind of help will I need during my recovery?
Following your breast reconstruction surgery for flap techniques and/or the insertion of a breast implant, gauze or bandages will be applied to your incisions. Dr. Hsu will wrap an elastic bandage or support bra to minimize swelling and support the reconstructed breast. A small, thin tube may be temporarily placed under the skin to drain any excess blood or fluid.
You will be given specific instructions that may include: how to care for your surgical site(s) following surgery, medications to apply or take orally to aid healing and reduce the risk of infection, specific concerns to look for at the surgical site or in your general health, and when to follow up after your procedure.
5. What are the risks and complications associated with my procedure and how are they handled?
The decision to have breast reconstruction surgery is extremely personal. You’ll have to decide if the benefits will achieve your goals and if the risks and potential complications are acceptable. Dr. Hsu and the staff will explain in detail the risks associated with surgery during the consultation. You will be asked to sign consent forms to ensure that you fully understand the procedures you will undergo and any risks or potential complications.
The possible risks of breast reconstruction include, but are not limited to, bleeding, infection, poor healing of incisions, and anesthesia risks. You should also know that:
- Flap surgery includes the risk of partial or complete loss of the flap and a loss of sensation at both the donor and reconstruction site.
- The use of implants carries the risk of breast firmness (capsular contracture) and implant rupture.
Breast implants do not impair breast health. Careful review of scientific research conducted by independent groups such as the Institute of Medicine has found no proven link between breast implants and autoimmune or other systemic diseases.