Breast reconstruction after partial or complete removal of breast(s) can be a very physically and emotionally rewarding procedure for many women. It offers the ability to not only create a new breast, but also can dramatically improve a woman's self image, self-confidence, and quality of life.
Reconstruction of a breast can be accomplished through many different plastic surgery techniques. The best procedure for your breast reconstruction depends on your goals for reconstruction and your medical history. Overall, the results of breast reconstruction can be relatively natural in appearance and feel; however, a reconstructed breast will never look or feel exactly the same as the breast that was removed.
Breast reconstruction typically involves several procedures performed in multiple stages. It can begin at the same time as mastectomy or may be delayed until a patient has healed from mastectomy and recovered from any additional cancer treatments that may be necessary.
Breast reconstruction is achieved through several reconstructive plastic surgery techniques following mastectomy including:
This procedure usually consists of at least two surgeries, but has the fewest scars, and is the least invasive of all the options.
A tissue expander is a balloon placed at the time of the mastectomy and adds about 1 hour of extra surgery time. This procedure usually entails one day in the hospital. During follow up office appointments, the expander is gradually filled with salt water until you have reached your desired size. When chemotherapy (if necessary) is completed, the expander is removed and the permanent implant placed. This takes about one hour and is done on an outpatient basis.
After healing from the second surgery, a nipple can be created with skin taken locally from the reconstructed breast. A tattoo is added later in the office for the areola color.
Read Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Expanders and Implants
Flap techniques use a woman's own tissue (muscle, fat, and skin) to create or cover the breast mound. Most often, tissue is taken from the back (Latissimus flap) or the abdomen (TRAM flap, DIEP flap).
The Unaffected Breast In the case that reconstruction is only needed for one breast, a woman may also wish to have a surgical procedure so that the unaffected breast will more closely match the reconstructed breast. This can be done at the time of mastectomy or later, depending on your preference for symmetry. Symmetry procedures may include a breast lift, reduction, or enlargement, and are covered by insurance.
The Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator Flap (DIEP flap) is a specialized form of the TRAM flap requiring the use of microsurgery techniques. An incision is made along the lower abdomen. Skin, soft tissue, and blood vessels feeding the tissue are removed. These blood vessels are then matched to supplying vessels at the mastectomy site and reattached under a microscope.
With the DIEP flap, no muscle is removed. This leaves the muscles in place and preserves the abdominal strength. The result in the abdomen is much like a tummy tuck, and the result in the chest is a reconstructed breast that is soft, warm, and more natural feeling.
This procedure takes at least 4-5 hours in the operating room, and often requires 3-5 days in the hospital.
Lumpectomy that removes at least one quadrant of the breast often leaves a deformity that is significant and oftentimes unacceptable after treatment. In these instances, your oncologic surgeon will most likely recommend you discuss your options with Dr Fine for reconstruction after lumpectomy.
The filling of lumpectomy defects can be accomplished endoscopically, using the latissimus dorsi muscle from the back and the overlying fat. Use of endoscopic surgical procedures allows Dr Fine to harvest muscle and tissue from the back while avoiding a large incision.
Endoscopic latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction requires an incision under the arm. In the case where axillary lymph node dissection occurs simultaneously, this incision can be extended slightly to gain access to the muscle. Through this incision, the muscle is mobilized with the use of the endoscope, and is pulled forward to fill the defect left after lumpectomy. This procedure has the ability to create a better contoured breast with minimal scars.