Breast reconstruction is plastic surgery to rebuild a breast. It is usually done after a
has been done to treat
breast cancer. Reconstruction generally requires several stages. The first stage may be done at the time of mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or at some point after the mastectomy (delayed reconstruction). Breast reconstruction can be done using an implant or tissue expander followed by placement of an implant. Breast reconstruction can also be done using a tissue flap taken from another part of the body.
When you are asleep and no longer feel any pain, a breathing tube will be placed.
A breast implant is the simplest form of reconstruction. It can be done at the time of mastectomy if there is enough skin left on the chest wall. This one-stage, immediate breast reconstruction procedure involves inserting a breast implant where the breast tissue was taken out.
The implant can be a silicone shell filled with sterile salt water (saline) or silicone gel. Alloderm or another type of treated skin may also be used to improve the appearance of the reconstructed breast. This type of reconstruction may provide an improved appearance of the breast without resorting to the use of skin and muscle tissue flaps. It is becoming the method of choice in immediate breast reconstruction.
Two-stage reconstruction is done if your skin and chest wall tissues are tight and flat. A tissue expander (temporary implant) is slipped under the skin, and the skin is closed. The expander can then be filled with saline. Over a few weeks, more saline is gradually put into the pouch with a needle. The skin overlying the pouch slowly expands as the pouch grows in size. Some doctors leave this expander in place as the actual implant. Others will replace the tissue expander with a saline or silicone gel implant. This replacement requires additional surgery.
If you want the size, shape, and color of your nipple and areola reconstructed, another surgery may be needed. The nipple can be reconstructed using local tissue. The areola can be reconstructed using skin from the inner thigh. Proper coloring is achieved through tattooing.
Tissue Flap Procedures
More complicated types of breast reconstruction involve using muscle and skin flaps from the abdomen, back, or other parts of your body.
transverse rectus abdominis
muscle (TRAM) flap procedure takes tissue and muscle from the lower abdomen and creates a breast shape. It is then moved to the chest area. Skin, fat, blood vessels, and abdominal muscles are removed, resulting in a
tummy tuck. Two types of TRAM flaps exist:
A pedicle flap remains attached to the original blood supply under the skin from the abdomen.
A free flap is completely cut away from its original location and reattached to blood vessels in the chest area using microsurgery. New advanced techniques may decrease complications and recovery time.
Other procedures include:
Gluteal-free flap procedure (less common)—Tissue is taken from the buttocks and reconstructed to form a breast shape. New advanced techniques may decrease complications and recovery time.
Latissimus dorsi flap (common)—Skin and muscle is taken from the upper back and tunneled under the skin to the front of your chest.