As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October 16th is National Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. Women who need to undergo mastectomies as part of their breast cancer treatment may wish to consider breast reconstruction surgery instead of facing a lifetime of wearing breast prostheses. When making such a decision, it is important to fully understand the options available and their associated benefits or drawbacks so that you can make the decision that is right for you.
Three types of breast reconstructive surgeries
In general, there are three main types of surgeries for breast reconstruction after a mastectomy—implants, autologous and a combination of the two. Implants are the traditional and most common option. An autologous reconstruction is essentially a tissue graft from another part of your own body.
In addition to the method of breast reconstruction, you can choose when to have the procedure done. It can be done at the time of your mastectomy or later on, possibly after all treatments are completed.
Given that a day in Breast Cancer Awareness Month is dedicated to reconstruction, it is safe to assume this is an important topic to breast cancer patients. Breast implants are the most commonly chosen procedure for reconstructions. This surgery is sometimes referred to as expander surgery because the skin must literally be expanded in order to accept and form to the new breast.
One method involves placement of a temporary implant expands the skin and muscle in the chest followed by the placement of the permanent implant roughly 12-24 weeks later. Another method places the permanent implant immediately but not at full size. Over a period of time, the surgeon adds saline, giving the muscle and skin time to expand and adjust gradually. Once the desired size is achieved, the tube through which saline is added is removed and the area sutured.
Some key information to note about implants includes:
- Women who have had radiation therapy may not be able to accept implants alone.
- Breasts will not sag and will remain firm even with aging.
- Breasts made from implants will look and feel less natural over time.
- More change to the unaffected breast is often needed to achieve a matched appearance as opposed to other methods.
The recovery time for implants is far less than any other type, even with the two-step process.
Autologous breast reconstruction
Surgeons can take fat, skin and other tissue from different parts of your body to create a breast with. The most common areas for harvesting other tissue from are the abdomen, buttocks or thigh. The procedure will vary based upon where the tissue is taken from but is more invasive than implants, requiring longer hospital stays and a six to eight week recovery period. There are clear benefits to this option, however, including:
- The new breast will have a more natural shape and feel than an implant breast.
- The risk of rejection by your body is low.
- The amount of change required to the non-affected breast is minimal.
- No annual implant check is required and there are no foreign objects in your body.
Many women enjoy the benefits of having fat removed from other parts of their bodies. For example, when taken from the abdomen, the result is essentially a tummy tuck in that region.
Implant with autologous reconstruction
In some situations, an implant can be used but skin and muscle will be taken from another part of the body, often the back. The implant is used to adjunct the tissue as there is often not sufficient tissue in the back to create a new breast with.
Every woman’s situation is unique
Because no two women are the same, no two breast reconstruction surgeries are the same. You should discuss your situation and options carefully with your doctor before making a final decision on which procedure is right for you.