Treatment Time: 3 – 8 hours (including prep)
Recovery Time: 6 to 18 Weeks
Longevity: Changes in natural breast will be different than the other breast.
Everything You need to know about Breast Reconstruction
What is Breast Reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is the rebuilding of a breast after removal of the breast or part of the breast during mastectomy.
Why do people have Breast Reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is most commonly performed on women who have undergone either a mastectomy, where one or both breasts have been removed, or lumpectomy, where a part of the breast tissue has been taken away. This could be as a result of a cancer diagnosis to remove the breast or the tissue that is deemed to be putting your health at risk, or it could be a preventative measure for those women who are diagnosed as carrying the BRCA1 gene and therefore have a high likelihood of developing breast cancer. Whilst breast reconstruction is designed to restore the physical appearance, for many women, this is a key part of their recovery, helping them to regain their self-esteem and improve body image.
Am I a good candidate?
Past medical history and current stage of treatment decide whether you are a suitable candidate. Naturally your general fitness is always reviewed, as you will need to be strong enough to undergo reconstruction. Any serious health problems, such as heart disease or autoimmune diseases, can increase the risk during the surgery and can complicate recovery. Your surgeon will discuss your past medical history in determining whether this surgery is suitable for you.
Timing wise, if you are undergoing or planning to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments, it is usually advised to postpone reconstruction. However, there are two key options which should be weighed up.
Firstly, you can undergo ‘immediate reconstruction’, which is where you have the surgery to reconstruct in the same surgery session as the mastectomy. In this case, the cosmetic result is often better as more of the skin of your breast can be preserved and scarring is reduced. Whilst it may feel overwhelming to have two key procedures at once, many women prefer the combined recovery period and just the single hospital stay. Not to mention, for many, the fact they are never without a breast helps them to keep their physical identity intact.
‘Delayed reconstruction’ is the second option, with the surgery carried out weeks, months or even years after the initial mastectomy. In some cases, immediate reconstruction isn’t deemed appropriate, usually because of the need for further treatment. In this scenario, your cancer treatment can proceed without any delay, and having two shorter surgeries can mean recovery is less intensive. However, this format does require some time spent without breast(s) which can have a significant impact on confidence and self-esteem.
Finally, it is very important that you are in good health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, before undergoing this procedure.
What are my options?
Breast reconstruction can be done either by inserting a breast implant (implant reconstruction) or by using tissue from another part of your body to create a new breast (flap reconstruction).
In flap reconstruction, a flap of patient’s own tissue is used to provide coverage or replacement of the radiation-damaged tissues with healthy, non-irradiated tissue.
In implant reconstruction, in the first stage, a tissue expander is inserted to expand the breast mound to reach the size required for the implant (usually within six to 10 visits). In the next stage, the expander is removed and replaced with a breast implant.
What should I look out for?
All surgical procedures have some degree of risk. Fortunately with breast reconstruction, significant complications are infrequent.
Other risks specific to breast reconstruction are outlined below:
- Implant rupture
- Capsular contracture
- Cancer – Breast reconstruction doesn’t change the chance of cancer coming back, and it generally doesn’t interfere with treatment.