When a woman’s breast is removed as part of her treatment for cancer or other disease, she may have the option to have the breast reconstructed. Sometimes the first steps of breast reconstruction are started as soon as the existing breast is removed, and sometimes the reconstruction is done as a separate procedure. Advances in medical techniques have enabled plastic surgeons to create a new breast that can closely replicate the existing breast, providing a natural-looking and natural-feeling new breast.
Breast Reconstruction Techniques
Several techniques are commonly used for breast reconstruction. The techniques chosen for a particular patient depend in part on the amount of breast tissue and skin that remain after a breast’s removal (i.e., the mastectomy). Most breast reconstructions involve a series of procedures that occur over time — usually, a breast cannot be constructed in a single operation.
Using the patient’s own body to reconstruct the area is called autologous tissue transfer. A portion of excess skin, muscle, fat or a combination of all three is used. The donor sites may be from the waist area or back area.
A common version of breast reconstruction uses skin expansion and the insertion of a breast implant. However, some patients don’t need the preliminary skin expansion step. Everyone’s breasts are different, and Dr. Vela will discuss the surgical techniques that are most appropriate for you.
Skin Expansion and an Insert
For skin expansion, a balloon expander is inserted beneath the remaining skin and chest muscle. Such an expander may be temporary, or it may be permanent. The expander receives an injection of saline (a saltwater solution) periodically over the next several weeks or months to expand the skin. When the skin has expanded enough, a temporary balloon expander is removed, and a permanent implant is inserted. The breast’s nipple and the area around the nipple, called the areola, are reconstructed in another procedure.
The implant may be filled with saline or silicone gel. Your new breast may not look and feel exactly like the breast that was removed, but the differences will be apparent only to you. In addition, most of the scarring left by a breast reconstruction will fade significantly within a year or two.
Schedule a Consultation
For most mastectomy patients, a breast reconstruction is an excellent choice for restoring the natural contour of the bustline and improving the quality of life. If you are facing the possibility of a mastectomy, ask Dr. Vela about getting a breast reconstruction, too. He’ll be happy to explain the surgical options and the benefits and risks of this significant advance in cosmetic surgery.