What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction can give your breasts a natural appearance after a mastectomy, lumpectomy, or congenital malformations. During the reconstruction process, your breast reconstruction surgeon will form a new breast using either artificial implants or your own tissue. Breast reconstruction typically requires multiple surgeries to achieve your desired results.
There are two approaches to breast reconstruction: implant-based reconstruction and flap reconstruction (a microsurgical technique). Implant-based reconstruction uses silicone or saline implants to form a new breast mound. In contrast, flap reconstruction uses tissue from another part of your body to create a new breast.
If you want to learn more about breast reconstruction—or schedule a consultation with a breast reconstruction surgeon in the Lehigh Valley—then contact St. Luke’s Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.
Breast reconstruction candidates include adults with the following characteristics:
- Successful mastectomy or lumpectomy
- Healthy breast skin
- Want to restore breast size and shape
It’s common to have reconstruction after a mastectomy—especially if your mastectomy was due to cancer. However, you may need to delay reconstruction if you’ve recently had chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Schedule a consultation with a St. Luke’s breast reconstruction surgeon in the Lehigh Valley to determine if breast reconstruction is right for you.
Getting breast reconstruction can positively impact your wellbeing and self-confidence. The following list includes some of the most commonly reported benefits:
- More symmetrical breasts
- Better-fitting clothes
- Reconstructed breast after a mastectomy
- Repaired nipple or areola
Breast reconstruction can dramatically improve your body image and give you a more youthful appearance. It can also eliminate the need for a specialized prosthesis known as a breast form–which may require specialized bras or adhesive.
As with all surgeries, breast reconstruction has risks. Some of them include the following:
- Blood clots
- Fluid surrounding wound
- Flap failure (DIEP)
- Loss of sensitivity
- Shape change over time
- Uneven breasts
- Wound infection
Your surgeon will review a complete list of risks before getting your consent.
Before the procedure
In the time leading up to your breast reconstruction at St. Luke’s Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, you can take steps to make your procedure as safe as possible. These include discussing the following topics at your surgical consultation:
- Goals and expectations
- Surgical options
As part of your consultation, your surgeon will also do a complete evaluation—which may include the following items:
- Ordering lab work
- Taking “before” photos for comparison
- Assessing medical conditions, allergies, and medical limitations
- Reviewing medications, supplements, alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
A week before the procedure, you can prepare at home in the following ways:
- Filling outstanding prescriptions
- Purchasing any medical supplies as needed
- Coordinating transportation and meals as needed
- Staying hydrated
You should arrive early on the day of your procedure to avoid travel delays.
During the procedure
Breast implantsIn breast reconstruction with implants, your surgeon will place permanent implants—shaped inserts—to create the appearance of a fuller breast. In the US, implants are typically made of a flexible silicone outer shell with saline or silicone gel inside. Note that different implant materials can lead to different results.
DIEP flap surgery (deep inferior epigastric artery perforator flap surgery)In DIEP flap surgery—a microsurgical technique—your surgeon will use an advanced microsurgical technique that takes tissue from your abdomen and rebuilds the lost breast. DIEP spares abdominal muscles, decreasing the risk of functional problems often seen with other types of flap reconstruction. Among its advantages, DIEP usually doesn’t require maintenance or repeat surgery.
After the procedure
After your breast reconstruction surgery, you’ll have gauze protecting your incisions. Additionally, you’ll get an elastic bandage or support bra to minimize swelling. And your surgeon will place temporary drainage tubes under the skin at the incision site.
Healing will continue as your breast settles into its final position and swelling decreases. Most patients feel more confident after this procedure and are happy with their results.
Your St. Luke’s plastic surgeon will customize your procedure based on your desired treatment results. The typical recovery milestones include the following:
Day of surgery
Depending on your reconstruction type, you may spend between one and four days in the hospital–with a more extended hospital stay for flap reconstruction surgery. You’ll experience pain, swelling, bruising, and tightness.
First several weeks after surgery
You’ll experience soreness, bruising, and swelling. Your surgeon will provide pain medication and bed rest to treat these symptoms. Additionally, your surgeon will place drainage tubes to reduce swelling and prevent fluid accumulation.
Six to eight weeks after surgery
You should notice reduced swelling, bruising, and discomfort. If your provider approves it, you may return to many activities. They also may recommend physical therapy to rebuild the chest muscles and help you return to normal activities more quickly.
Three months after surgery
You’ll likely have nipple reconstruction and any minor adjustments as needed. Note that this surgery’s recovery period is brief—but still results in temporary bruising, swelling, and discomfort.
One year after surgery
You should be almost entirely healed from your surgery, your scars should fade, and you may experience nipple sensation.