The goal of breast reconstruction is to restore one or both breasts to near normal shape, appearance, symmetry, and size following mastectomy, lumpectomy or other trauma.
Breast reconstruction often involves several procedures performed in stages and can either begin at the time of mastectomy or be delayed until a later date.
Breast reconstruction generally falls into two categories: implant based reconstruction or flap reconstruction.
Implant reconstruction relies on breast implants to help form a new breast mound.
Flap reconstruction uses the patient’s own tissue from another part of the body to form a new breast.
There are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing which option is best:
- Type of mastectomy
- Cancer treatments
- Patient’s body type
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.
Breast reconstruction candidates
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 Although breast reconstruction can rebuild your breast, the results are highly variable:
- A reconstructed breast will not have the same sensation or 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.
Breast reconstruction 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.
An elastic bandage or support bra will 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.
A pain pump may also be used to reduce the need for narcotics.
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 with your plastic surgeon.
Be sure to ask your plastic surgeon specific questions about what you can expect during your individual recovery period.
- Where will I be taken after my surgery is complete?
- What medication will I be given or prescribed after surgery?
- Will I have dressings/bandages after surgery? When will they be removed?
- Will there be drains? For how long?
- When can I bathe or shower?
- When can I resume normal activity and exercise?
- When do I return for follow-up care?
Healing will continue for several weeks as swelling decreases and breast shape and position improve. Continue to follow your plastic surgeon’s instructions and attend follow-up visits as scheduled.
Breast reconstruction results
The final results of breast reconstruction following mastectomy can help lessen the physical and emotional impact of mastectomy.
Over time, some breast sensation may return, and scar lines will improve, although they’ll never disappear completely.
There are trade-offs, but most women feel these are small compared to the large improvement in their quality of life and the ability to look and feel whole.
Careful monitoring of breast health through self-exam, mammography and other diagnostic techniques is essential to your long-term health.
When you go home
If you experience shortness of breath, chest pains, or unusual heart beats, seek medical attention immediately. Should any of these complications occur, you may require hospitalization and additional treatment.
The practice of medicine and surgery is not an exact science. Although good results are expected, there is no guarantee. In some situations, it may not be possible to achieve optimal results with a single surgical procedure and another surgery may be necessary.
Following your physician’s instructions is key to the success of your surgery. It is important that the surgical incisions are not subjected to excessive force, abrasion, or motion during the time of healing. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to care for yourself.