The 2023 cancer statistics by the American Cancer Society show an expected 297,790 new breast cancer cases among women. This number adds to the more than 3.5 million cancer survivors in the United States.
Despite the latest advancements in breast cancer treatment, some women are still required to have a mastectomy — surgery to remove one or both breasts as part of their cancer treatment.
Mastectomy surgery has long-term physical and emotional effects on cancer survivors who feel incomplete without their breasts. Fortunately, plastic surgeons can restore the shape and look of the breasts using relocated tissues or implants (or both). If you have had a mastectomy, you can have reconstructive surgery immediately (or delayed) to feel your whole self again. Qualifications vary by patient.
With different types of breast reconstruction surgeries available, talk to your plastic surgeon and cancer care team to explore your options and what to expect after surgery, including possible side effects and risks.
Read on to learn about breast reconstruction surgery options to help you decide if it is right for you!
Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Breast reconstruction surgery allows cancer survivors to have the removed breast restored. Plastic surgeons have several options for rebuilding the removed breast. Reconstruction techniques allow surgeons to use saline or silicone implants to rebuild breasts. Others can also use autologous tissue. Your plastic surgeon can reconstruct both breasts to match each other, depending on your expectations.
Different Types of Reconstructive Surgery
It is essential to know the following options if you want to have your breast rebuilt after mastectomy.
A plastic surgeon builds a new breast using autologous tissue taken from your body during the flap reconstruction surgery. The ideal tissue for this procedure is from your lower abdomen.
However, your surgeon can also consider fat, muscle, skin, and blood vessels from your thigh or bottom to form a new breast. Surgeons classify flaps as either free or pedicled. For a pedicled flap, surgeons use the entire tissues with their attached blood vessels to the breast area. With free flaps, the surgeons detach the muscles from the muscle and attach the tissue to new vessels around the breast area.
Different flap reconstruction surgeries are classified according to the origin or the source of the skin, blood vessels, and muscle used to build a new breast. Types of flap constructions include:
- DIEP flap: This procedure utilizes the lower belly’s skin, blood vessels, and muscle
- TRAM flap: for this procedure, the surgeon uses the lower belly’s skin, blood vessels, and muscle
- Latissimus dorsi (LD) flap: This procedure utilizes back muscles
- IGAP flap surgery: This technique uses your butt’s tissues
- PAP flap surgery: This procedure uses the thigh’s inner tissues
- TUG flap surgery: This uses thigh muscles and tissues.
Surgeons can use saline or silicone implants to restore your breast outlook after a mastectomy. These implants help them recreate breast tissues. Sometimes surgeons prefer to combine implants with flap reconstruction after mastectomy. The most common types of implant reconstruction surgeries include the following:
- Under the chest muscle implant reconstruction: Your surgeon places the implants underneath the chest muscles to recreate breast tissue
- Above the chest muscle reconstruction: Surgeons recreate breast tissues by placing implants on top of the chest muscles
- Implant with tissue expander reconstruction: The surgeon fills the expander with saline and places it under the skin for it to stretch. The surgeon then places an implant under the skin once the skin has expanded.
Common FAQs About Having Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy
Am I An Ideal Candidate for Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
If you are a cancer survivor and have had a mastectomy, consider the different breast reconstruction options. It is possible to have breast reconstruction even if you have a radical mastectomy. However, you may be at a higher risk if you have a severe medical condition, are overweight, or smoke.
What Are the Possible Complications and Side Effects of Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
You can expect infection, itching, tingling, and pain or discomfort around the surgery site like after any surgery. Possible complications you should watch out for include:
- Blood clots
- Implant rupture
- Hard scar tissues around the implant
- Pooling of blood
- A mass or lump with the breast due to fluid accumulation in the reconstructed breast.
What is the Best Time for Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
Some breast reconstruction procedures are best when done or started during mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) and others after the patient recovers (delayed reconstruction).
What Is the Best Breast Reconstruction Option?
You have several options if you choose breast reconstruction surgery. However, the best breast reconstruction option depends on factors such as past surgeries, the possibility of a patient requiring additional cancer treatments, and the patient’s overall goals or desired appearance.
On the Bottom Line
Breast reconstruction surgery can improve a cancer survivor’s self-confidence. Many people feel better after breast reconstruction. Ask your surgeon about breast reconstruction surgery options to find a technique that is right for you!