Considering breast reconstruction? Wondering what it means and what the procedures are?

We asked the National Institutes of Health to tell us more.

We know: About Breast Reconstruction and Implants

What is breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction is surgery to rebuild the shape of your breast. It is often done following a mastectomy. Sometimes the other breast is reconstructed to match the new one in size and shape.

If I have reconstruction after a mastectomy, will my breast be the same?

No, reconstruction cannot give you back your breast. Your breast may look relatively natural after surgery, but it will not have natural sensation.

When is the surgery performed?

Some women begin reconstruction at the same time as the mastectomy is done; others wait several months or even years.

How is the breast reconstructed?

The plastic surgeon usually reconstructs the breast in one of two ways:

  • by forming a mound that is composed of tissues from another part of your body, usually the abdomen, back or buttocks
  • by using a breast implant which is made from a silicone sac filled with either salt water or silicone gel. The sac is placed under your skin behind your chest muscle

What should I know about each method?

TISSUE METHOD: Choose a plastic surgeon who has been trained in this procedure and has performed it successfully on many women.

Tissue flap reconstruction is a major operation, resulting in large surgical wounds. If there is a poor blood supply to the flap tissue, part or all of the tissue in the breast area may not survive the transplant. Infection and poor wound healing are possible problems.

SILICONE SAC METHOD: Saline-filled (salt water) breast implants are available to anyone who wants them. You must check with your doctor about the availability of silicone gel-filled implants. You may have some pain, swelling, bruising, and tenderness following surgery. Let your doctor know immediately about any fever, infection, or bleeding.

Side effects that could appear later include rupture, leakage, deflation or shifting of the implant, or interference with mammography readings. Breast implants age over time and may need to be replaced.

What else is involved in the surgery?

Breast reconstruction usually requires more than one surgery. Besides the shaping of the breast, a nipple may be added, the shape and size of the new breast may need to be changed, and the other breast may need to be shaped and sized to match the new one.

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