The elation of surviving breast cancer may be tinged by a sense of loss after a mastectomy, double-mastectomy, or lumpectomy. If you have lost a breast or breasts because of cancer, a breast reconstruction can improve your self-confidence and help to ease your recovery, all while restoring a sense of normalcy back into your life.
Reconstructive plastic surgery for breast cancer replaces skin, breast tissue and the nipple removed during a mastectomy. The amount of missing tissue differs with each mastectomy. Factors contributing to the amount of tissue removed include the width, size, and location of the original tumor and its proximity to the axilla, where the lymph glands are removed.
The ultimate goal of reconstruction is to restore symmetry between the two breasts.
BREAST RECONSTRUCTION PROCESS
Medications are administered for your comfort during the surgical procedure. The choices include intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Your doctor will recommend the best choice for you.
Sometimes a mastectomy or radiation therapy will leave insufficient tissue on the chest wall to cover and support a breast implant. The use of a breast implant for reconstruction almost always requires either a flap technique or tissue expansion. Flap techniques reposition a woman’s own muscle, fat and skin to create or cover the breast mound. Occasionally, the flap can reconstruct a complete breast mound, but often provides the muscle and tissue necessary to cover and support a breast implant.
A breast implant can be an addition or alternative to flap techniques. Saline and silicone implants are available for reconstruction. Your surgeon will help you decide what is best for you. Reconstruction with an implant alone usually requires tissue expansion.
Reconstruction with tissue expansion allows an easier recovery than flap procedures, but it is a more lengthy reconstruction process. Tissue expansion stretches healthy skin to provide coverage for a breast implant. It requires many office visits over 4-6 months after placement of the expander to slowly fill the device through an internal valve to expand the skin.
Depending on the type of surgery, you should go home from the hospital between 1 to 6 days. You may be discharged with one or more drains in place. A drain is a small tube that’s put in the wound to remove extra fluid from the surgery site while it heals. In most cases, fluid drains into a little hollow ball that you will learn to empty before you leave the hospital.
You should feel tired and sore for a week or two after implant surgery, and longer after flap procedures. Your doctor will give you a prescription for medicine to control pain and other discomfort.
Follow all instructions given by the doctor. Also be sure to ask what kind of support garments you should wear. If you have any concerns or questions, call your doctor.