Breast reconstruction surgery can make a huge difference in a woman's life after mastectomy, when she has a genetic breast defect, or when she has sustained a serious breast injury. Tremendous advances have been made in the field of breast reconstruction today. Women can now have their breasts restored to a look that is both beautiful and natural.
Who is a Candidate for Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
Candidates for breast reconstruction include post-mastectomy breast cancer patients, women who have a genetic breast defect that creates an undesirable look, and women who have suffered an injury that has altered the appearance of the breasts.
How Does a Standard Breast Reconstruction Work?
When a non-cancer patient has breast reconstruction surgery, the surgery is customized based on the specific patient and their problems. There are 2 main options in standard breast reconstruction surgery: Surgery with breast implants and tissue flap procedures. Breast implants (either saline or silicone based on the patient's choice) can be used in cases where there isn't enough natural breast tissue to create the desired look. Tissue flap procedures are used in cases where the patient has enough natural breast tissue to reshape into an improved contour, or when tissue is taken from another area like the buttocks to be placed in the chest. Most non-cancer breast reconstruction patients are able to keep their nipple and areola, although they may need to be relocated during the surgery.
How Does Reconstruction After Mastectomy Work?
Many patients who suffer from breast cancer opt for breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. The reconstruction surgery can be scheduled at the same time as the mastectomy or at a later time, depending on the patient's individual needs. In a tissue flap procedure, skin, fat, and muscle can be taken from an area with extra fat (often the buttocks or belly) and used to make a new breast mound.
Post-mastectomy breast implants require a 2-part procedure. First, a tissue expander is placed in a pocket of chest muscle. The expander is gradually enlarged using saline over a period of several months. The patient then returns to have another surgery in which the expanders are removed and replaced by breast implants.
After a mastectomy, it may not be possible to save the nipple and areola. However, there are some highly effective reconstruction techniques that allow for a very natural looking result. A new nipple and areola can be created with extra breast skin or extra skin taken from the belly, thigh, or the back. This is combined with a sophisticated tattoo technique that creates a remarkably realistic and natural result.
The Benefits of Breast Reconstruction
Breast reconstruction is done in patients who have suffered from some type of disease, accident, or serious illness. In addition to the other serious symptoms and effects, the loss of the breasts can be emotionally devastating. Breast reconstruction allows women to feel fully feminine again. This surgery can allow a woman to like what she sees in the mirror again. Breast reconstruction can also help women feel more confident wearing clothes like swimsuits. In fact, most clothes fit and look better after a breast reconstruction.
Breast Reconstruction Techniques
The choice between tissue flap (no implant) breast reconstruction and implant reconstruction is a highly personal one. The tissue flap technique isn't suited for all patients, just as implants aren't right for everyone. Dr. Rau will work with each patient to determine which technique is best for them based on the patient's stage of treatment (in cancer patients), the patient's desired breast appearance, and the patient's overall health.
Preparing for Breast Reconstruction
Preparing for breast reconstruction surgery can be different for each woman. Some patients will have the procedure simultaneously with a mastectomy while others will have it as a stand-alone procedure. Each patient will be provided with guidelines to follow as they prepare for surgery. This generally includes discontinuing certain medications as directed, discontinuing medications that can cause excessive bleeding during surgery (anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin, herbal supplements,) and discontinuing smoking.
Breast reconstruction surgery is done while the patient is under general anesthesia. Because the procedure is a fairly extensive one, general anesthesia is the best option. The procedure generally takes from 2 to 4 hours in most patients, with tissue flap reconstruction taking longer than the placement of chest expanders. Patients who are getting breast implants will have a second surgery in several months to remove the expanders and put the implants in their place.
Recovery From Breast Reconstruction
Hospital stay depends on the type of reconstruction, whether the patient had a mastectomy at the same time, and the patient's overall health. Patients should plan to be off work for around 3 weeks, and up to 6 weeks in some cases. Any type of lifting or exercise involving the upper body must be avoided for at least 6 weeks. Patients will wear a compression garment for support, which also helps minimize swelling. Pain medication prescriptions are provided and can be used to alleviate severe pain in early recovery. Patients can then transition into using over the counter pain relievers.
Results: What to Expect
Most women are very happy with their breast reconstruction results. This surgery can restore feminine appearance and greatly enhance self-confidence. While there is an obvious change in the breasts immediately after surgery, it takes up to 6 months to see the final results.
Some patients are at higher risk for complications during the reconstruction process. This is more likely if they have to have radiation treatments or have issues with breast tissue perfusion. Dr. Rau and his team have your goals in mind and help keep you on a path to successfully complete your reconstruction.
Want to Learn More About Breast Reconstruction?
Breast cancer patients and women who suffer from breast deformity or damage can learn more about breast reconstruction by contacting Rau Plastic Surgery. Dr. Jeffrey Rau and his team love to help women look and feel their very best. Call for a consultation anytime.