Breast reconstruction, the surgical procedure aimed at recreating breasts after a mastectomy or lumpectomy, can involve multiple stages and techniques. There are various approaches to breast reconstruction, including the use of saline or silicone breast implants, as well as utilizing tissue from other parts of your body, such as lower abdominal tissue.
Breast reconstruction can be done immediately following breast cancer surgery (referred to as immediate reconstruction) or be postponed to a later date, which may be months or even years after the initial procedure (known as delayed reconstruction). Depending on your specific circumstances, you may require reconstruction for both breasts or just one, and in some cases, the reconstruction process may involve multiple surgeries performed over time.
It’s important to note that not everyone who undergoes a mastectomy chooses to undergo breast reconstruction. The decision to pursue breast reconstruction is deeply personal and varies from person to person.
Following mastectomies, there are two primary kinds of breast reconstruction surgery.
During flap reconstruction, your surgeon forms a breast using autologous tissue, which is taken from your own body. Usually, the lower abdomen (belly) is where the tissue is taken from. However, it may also originate from your back, bottom, or thigh.
To create a new breast, your surgeon may extract muscle, fat, skin, and blood vessels from these parts of your body. Doctors refer to this tissue as a flap. Occasionally, a flap (pedicled flap) is moved through your body by a surgeon. In this manner, the flap keeps its own blood supply. Alternatively, they might attach the free flap—which is separated from its own blood supply—to the blood vessels in your chest.
Among the varieties of flap reconstruction are:
Surgeons often utilize saline or silicone implants to mimic breast tissue in implant–based breast reconstruction. In some cases, surgeons may opt to combine these implants with your body’s own tissue. This can involve procedures such as mastectomy and implant reconstruction, which can be performed together, or you may choose to undergo implant reconstruction following a mastectomy.
The following implant reconstruction types exist:
In the event that you meet the criteria for a lumpectomy, oncoplastic reconstruction can be advantageous. You can find out if you qualify for breast conservation by speaking with your oncologic breast surgeon. On the other hand, radiation therapy will be necessary after a lumpectomy.
Surgeons performing oncoplastic reconstruction perform breast reduction or breast lift procedures concurrently with the lumpectomy. The breast form is improved and the defect left by the lumpectomy is filled up with a breast reduction or lift. For symmetry, the other breast will require a breast lift or reduction.
Some types of mastectomies, specifically “nipple–sparing mastectomies,” retain the areola and nipple. The areola refers to the darker skin surrounding the nipple. In cases where a new nipple is necessary, healthcare providers can create one using either nearby breast skin or by transplanting skin from another part of your body through a skin graft.
Following nipple reconstruction, some individuals opt to enhance the appearance further by getting a 3D tattoo of an areola. Skilled tattoo artists are capable of crafting lifelike areola designs through this process.
Breast reconstruction typically follows a surgical procedure intended to treat or prevent breast cancer. It is used by providers to reconstruct lost or damaged breast tissue and reshape breasts. This surgery could also be done to restore symmetry. This indicates that they create identically sized and shaped breasts. Reconstructing breast tissue resulting from congenital anomalies (birth deformities) is a less usual procedure.
It’s typical to have breast loss after a mastectomy. Many women find that having breast restoration surgery helps them deal with these intense feelings and move on.
Breast reconstruction carries the same dangers as any surgical procedure: bleeding and infection. The type of operation and the amount of tissue left over after radiation and surgery for breast cancer affect the outcome.
You most likely won’t feel anything at all in your surgically restored breasts after surgery. You might gradually regain some skin sensation. But the feeling won’t be the same as it was.
Following breast reconstruction surgery, complications could include:
Reconstruction of the breast occurs following a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Before having breast reconstruction surgery, you might also require chemotherapy or radiation if you have breast cancer. Your surgeon will talk with you about your surgery alternatives and inquire about your goals.
Your surgeon will first perform a thorough examination. Your breasts will be measured and photographed by them. Inform your healthcare practitioner about your medical history, current medications, and surgical procedures. Before the surgery, your doctor could ask you to cease using a certain medicine.
In a hospital setting, a surgeon will conduct a procedure to restore your breasts. Your healthcare provider will administer anesthesia, rendering you unconscious and pain–free during the process. The initial step typically involves the surgeon performing either a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
While you remain unconscious, the breast reconstruction procedure is carried out by your surgeon. If you are undergoing implant reconstruction, the surgeon places the implant within your chest. In the case of a flap operation, tissue is harvested from another area of your body to construct and implant the new breast.
During the procedure, your surgeon may also insert a small tube, known as a drain, beneath your skin. This tube extends outward from your chest, allowing for the drainage of blood and fluids as you heal. Once you no longer require these tubes, your healthcare provider will remove them.
You might have to spend up to a week in the hospital following surgery. Your doctor will keep an eye on you to make sure you’re recovering. You could put on a surgical bra. The bra minimizes swelling and supports your breasts while they recuperate. Your doctor will provide you with information on how to take care of yourself when it’s time to return home.
Following surgery, your doctor will assist you in managing your pain. They might suggest over–the–counter or prescription painkillers. When taking medication, carefully adhere to your doctor’s directions.
To make your breasts match, you could require additional surgery if you have reconstruction on one of your breasts. This could involve breast augmentation or reduction surgery.
The duration and nature of your post–operative recovery can vary widely and depend on several factors, including the specific procedure you underwent and your overall health.
During your recovery period, it’s important to avoid activities like heavy lifting, strenuous exercise, and certain other actions to give your body the necessary time to heal. When you’re ready to resume your usual activities, it’s advisable to have a discussion with your doctor to ensure a safe and gradual return to your routine.
After breast reconstruction surgery, it’s crucial to remain vigilant for any signs of cancer recurrence. Regular check–ups with your healthcare provider are essential. Additionally, routine mammograms should be performed on the non–reconstructed breast to screen for any potential malignancies.
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