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Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is a life-changing moment for any woman. It is a time when questions about survival and treatment can often overshadow deeper personal concerns such as body image and self-esteem.


Understanding Breast Reconstruction

Breast reconstruction is a type of surgery for women who have had a breast removed (mastectomy). It can rebuild the shape of a breast using an implant or tissue taken from another part of the body. This post-mastectomy procedure is often a crucial element in the emotional recovery of a breast cancer survivor.

Types of Breast Reconstruction

There are several types of breast reconstruction techniques, and the right one for you will depend on various factors including your body type, the extent of your mastectomy, and your personal preferences.

Implant Reconstruction: This method involves inserting a saline or silicone implant beneath the chest muscle. It may be done at the same time as the mastectomy or as a delayed procedure.

Flap (or Autologous) Reconstruction: Flap reconstruction uses muscle, fat, and skin taken from your abdomen, back, thighs, or buttocks to create a new breast. It’s a more complex surgery but often gives a more natural-looking result.

Combined (Hybrid) Reconstruction: This technique combines flap reconstruction with an implant to provide a balance of a natural tissue look and the additional projection that an implant can offer.

Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy Reconstruction: If you're undergoing a mastectomy, it’s possible to keep the original nipple and areola, which can then be preserved and reconstructed during a later step in the process.

Can a Nipple Be Reconstructed?

Yes, a nipple can be reconstructed. This typically involves a series of minor procedures that are performed sometime after the initial breast reconstruction surgery. The nipple is recreated from your own tissue and then tattooed to change its colour to match the remaining nipple.

When To Consider Breast Reconstruction?

Women often consider breast reconstruction following the removal of one or both breasts due to cancer or other diseases. Deciding whether to have breast reconstruction is a deeply personal choice.

How Do I Know What Type of Breast Reconstruction Surgery to Get?

Choosing the right type of breast reconstruction is a highly individual decision that should be made in collaboration with your medical team and based on several factors:

  • Your medical history
  • The size of your natural breasts
  • size of your body frame
  • Current treatments and possible future treatments you may receive
  • Your desire for symmetry.
The Process: Before, During, and After Breast Reconstruction Surgery

The breast reconstruction process is a complex one and requires several stages. Here’s an overview of what to expect:

Before Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Initial consultations will involve discussing the current stage of your cancer treatment, your medical history, and your treatment goals. You will work with your plastic surgeon to pick the best reconstruction method and decide whether immediate or delayed reconstruction is right for you.

During Breast Reconstruction Surgery

The mastectomy and breast reconstruction procedures can be carried out during a single operation, known as immediate reconstruction, or the reconstruction can be delayed until you have healed from your mastectomy and completed any necessary chemotherapy or radiation treatment. The surgery may take several hours or longer.

After Breast Reconstruction Surgery

The recovery process is different for every woman and depends on the type of surgery you had. For some, the physical and emotional recovery from reconstruction can be challenging, but for many, it's a vital step towards regaining a positive body image.

The Advantages of Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Breast reconstruction has several benefits, including:

  • Restoring a sense of symmetry and balance to your body
  • Improving self-esteem and body image
  • Making it easier to wear regular clothing and engage in social activities
  • Offering women, a sense of psychological and emotional security
The Psychological and Emotional Benefits

Breast reconstruction is much more than just a physical procedure. It plays a significant role in a woman’s psychological and emotional recovery by helping her feel whole again.

Physical and Practical Advantages

From a practical standpoint, breast reconstruction can alleviate the need for external breast forms, which can be cumbersome and conspicuous.

Social and Work-Related Benefits

Breast reconstruction can also boost a patient’s ability to maintain or obtain employment by eliminating external barriers related to physical appearance.

Weighing the Risks and Complications of Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Breast reconstruction surgery is major surgery and, like any surgery, carries risks. Some possible complications include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Healing problems at the incision sites
  • Blood clots in the legs or lungs
  • Implant leaks or ruptures!
Do Implants Carry Extra Risks?

Implants do carry some unique risks such as the development of scar tissue around the implant, called capsular contracture, which can cause the breast to feel tight or hard. There is also a very small risk of a rare type of lymphoma known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).

What Happens If There’s a Problem?

If you experience a problem after surgery, it’s essential to speak to a specialist as soon as possible. Many problems can be quickly resolved if they are discovered and treated early.

Is Breast Reconstruction Right for You?

Ultimately, the decision to undergo breast reconstruction is yours to make, but it’s important to consider both the benefits and the potential drawbacks. The medical team can walk you through what to expect at each stage to help you make the most informed decision.