For many women, losing their breast due to cancer can negatively impact their self-esteem. Breast reconstructive surgery can help you regain your shape and confidence following breast cancer surgery.
There are several options that your surgeon may recommend depending on the type of mastectomy surgery, your body shape, and your cancer treatment plan. Learn more about the different surgical options available and the alternative to reconstruction if you want to avoid surgery.
When Can You Get a Breast Reconstruction
Depending on your treatment plan, a breast reconstruction procedure can be performed at different times after your mastectomy.
Many surgeons suggest waiting until after you’ve completed radiation treatment or chemotherapy. Some research indicates that breast implants or reconstructed breast tissue could interfere with radiotherapy, preventing it from reaching the affected area adequately.
This could mean your reconstructive breast surgery can’t be performed until six to twelve months after the initial mastectomy.
In some cases, you can get breast reconstruction at the same time as your mastectomy surgery. This is the most common type of plastic surgery performed on patients receiving a prophylactic mastectomy (the removal of the breast in patients with a high risk of breast cancer.)
It is also a suitable option for patients undergoing breast-sparing mastectomies, as there is typically sufficient tissue to perform a reconstruction without the need for an implant.
This type of surgery requires careful coordination between your surgical oncologist and a board certified plastic surgeon. During a reconstruction after a mastectomy, the breast cancer surgeon removes the affected breast tissue.Then, the plastic surgeon uses the remaining breast tissue, tissue from another part of your body, or an implant to rebuild the breast.
Delayed-immediate breast reconstruction is a relatively novel procedure. It involves placing a tissue expander or breast implant under the muscles and reserved skin in the chest wall to preserve the shape and integrity of the tissue. A permanent reconstruction is performed at a later date.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends this procedure for women who have had breast conserving surgery but still need radiation therapy. The tissue expander balloon will not disrupt the treatment in the same way that other reconstruction options do.
Types of Breast Reconstruction
For breast cancer patients who choose to have a reconstruction after their mastectomy, there are several different surgical options to choose from. The right surgical option for you depends on the amount of tissue remaining after the mastectomy and whether radiation therapy or chemo is needed.
Reconstruction using implants is the most common type of reconstructive surgery. More than 100,000 breast reconstructions were performed in the US in 2019, and 80% of them were done using implants.
Implant reconstruction involves restoring volume and symmetry to your breasts by placing implants in the chest wall. Implants can be filled with saline or silicone gel.
Implant reconstruction is an excellent option if you:
- Have enough healthy skin to cover the implant after a mastectomy
- Want to avoid scars or incisions on other areas of your body from free flap surgery
- Prefer a faster, easier recovery time compared with autologous flap surgery
- Do not need radiation therapy after your mastectomy
Unlike flap reconstruction, breast implant surgery is not a permanent solution to restore your shape. Breast implants can develop ruptures or leaks over time. While typically not dangerous for your health, a rupture can alter the appearance of your breast implant and require replacement. Breast implants generally need to be replaced every 10 to 20 years.
Autologous flap reconstruction
Autologous reconstruction uses skin, muscle, and fat from your own body to recreate your breast. The surgeon can use tissue from various areas, including the abdomen, buttocks, and thighs. The tissue can be completely detached from the nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels before being transferred to your chest, so it is often called free flap surgery.
Depending on your body type and breast size, you may need tissue sourced from multiple locations on your body, or you may need a combination flap and implant surgery.
You can opt to have your nipple removed during the mastectomy and replaced when your breast is reconstructed. If the nipple can’t be saved or you choose not to replace it, you can use artificial nipples inside your bra or attached using skin-friendly adhesive. Or, get realistic nipples tattooed onto your reconstructed breasts.
Alternatives to Reconstruction
If you have chosen to delay reconstructive surgery or forgo the procedure, an artificial breast prosthesis is an excellent option. A prosthesis, or breast form, offers you the look and feel of a natural breast without the need for invasive surgery.
Breast forms come in a wide range of shapes and sizes to suit your body type. One of the best options is a custom-made breast form. At A Fitting Experience Mastectomy Shoppe, we offer high-quality American Breast Care custom breast forms.
Using state-of-the-art 3D scanning technology, we take digital images of your chest and underarms. The data is sent to an offsite lab, along with information on your skin tone, where your breast forms are fabricated.
Custom breast forms are contoured to your body, providing the most comfortable fit and realistic appearance.
Visit A Fitting Experience Mastectomy Shoppe for a Professional Fitting
At A Fitting Experience Mastectomy Shoppe, we carry a range of quality mastectomy products for women who have had a reconstruction, breast augmentation, or mastectomy.
Our ABCOP-accredited staff can provide a personalized fitting for breast forms, mastectomy bras, and post-surgical compression bras to help you find the perfect piece for your body. Contact us to schedule your confidential fitting today.