Breast reconstruction is a common procedure for women who have undergone a mastectomy, which is the removal of breast tissue to treat or prevent breast cancer. Breast reconstruction surgery can help to restore the shape of the breast. While it’s certainly not a requirement and some women may choose not to rebuild their breast, many women often choose to undergo breast reconstruction to improve their self-esteem and feel more confident with their bodies. Dr. Paul Chasan, a leading plastic surgeon in San Diego in the area of breast reconstruction, has the experience and knowledge to help you make these big decisions. For questions about breast reconstruction, you’ve come to the right place.
Typically, the best result is obtained when the breast reconstruction is done at the same time as the initial mastectomy surgery. However, chemotherapy and radiation treatments may delay the breast surgery as undergoing these treatments can cause issues with infections. Some women may even opt to have the breast reconstruction procedure years later and choose to use a prosthetic breast in the meantime. Our San Diego plastic surgeon, Dr. Paul E. Chasan, can help you decide what is best for you.
There are two types of breast reconstruction: breast implants and natural tissue flaps. Choosing between the two can be a difficult decision as there are benefits and downfalls to each but your plastic surgeon can help you choose the right method for your lifestyle. Factors to consider include the size of breast, the age of the woman and risk factors like obesity or smoking. Breast Implants – Breast implants can be customized to match the look of the natural breast. While implants may look and feel somewhat different than the natural breast, this option is less invasive and has a quicker recovery time. The breast implants are placed under the skin or muscle and can be filled with either saline or silicone. Saline breast implants contain a saltwater solution while silicone breast implants are filled with a semi-solid gel, which gives them a more realistic feel. Often an expander is inserted to slowly stretch the skin over multiple office visits for several weeks before the actual implants are inserted. Breast implants are often better suited for women with small to medium sized breasts as women with large breasts may not have enough skin preserved during the mastectomy to cover a large implant. Be aware that breast implants can rupture and you may need surgery to replace or remove them. Natural Tissue Flaps – Natural tissue flaps look and feel more like the natural breast. Using this method, the breasts are reconstructed using skin, fat and muscle from another part of your body, typically the abdomen or back. Since the surgery involves collecting tissue from other areas of the body, the surgery time and recovery period is longer. This method is not typically recommended for athletes as it may limit the range of motion or cause weakness to the area where the tissue is removed. RELATED: Skin-Sparing Mastectomy with Sun Flap Closure Breast reconstruction can be done on one or both breasts depending on if you have a single or double mastectomy. If only one breast is affected, you may decide to have cosmetic surgery on the natural breast to create a balanced look. This can include a breast reduction or breast augmentation to ensure that the breasts are symmetrical. Finally, you may choose to recreate the nipple and areola after the breasts have healed from the initial breast reconstruction surgery. Occasionally, these can be preserved during the mastectomy, as long as the cancer is not too close to the area, and can be reattached. If they are not able to be preserved, they can be recreated using skin from the reconstructed breast that is shaped into a nipple. The areola is often recreated using tattoo ink.
After the breast reconstruction surgery, which usually takes between one and six hours, patients are transferred to a recovery room for two to three hours. The length of the hospital stay varies depending on the type of surgery but you can expect to stay in the hospital for observation for a few days. Women who receive implants can expect to go home sooner than those who choose natural tissue flaps, which may require up to a six day hospital stay. During this time, nurses can help you get in and out of bed and move to and from the bathroom. By day two, many patients can walk without assistance. Even after you return home from the hospital, you can expect soreness, swelling and bruising for up to three weeks as you heal. You may be required to change bandages or apply medicine to the wound. Many women can expect to resume normal activities within a month but strenuous exercise may require a longer healing time. It’s not uncommon to experience areas of numbness or tightness but the pain should subside. As the months pass, some feeling should return to your breasts and the scars from the surgery will gradually fade.
Now that you have an overview of breast reconstruction, you may be ready to take the next step. If you have more questions about breast reconstruction, please schedule an appointment with our plastic surgeon in North County San Diego, Dr. Paul Chasan. We can discuss all your plastic surgery needs in private during your consultation.