Procedure: Breast reconstruction usually involves a series of procedures that take place over time. The type of procedure depends on the results a woman wants, her anatomy, available tissue and other considerations. A procedure may be recommended to lift or reduce the opposite breast so that it more closely matches the reconstructed breast. Click here for procedural renderings.
Expansion/Breast Implant—A tissue expander is inserted under the pectoral muscle, and, over a period of about three months, gradually inflated with saline so that the skin and muscle can stretch to accommodate it. When the breast mound reaches the size the doctor and patient desires, a permanent implant is surgically inserted.
Flap reconstruction—A flap of skin, fat and muscle may be taken from the back or the abdomen to build the breast mound. The flap may be delivered to the breast area by tunneling underneath the skin, thus retaining the original blood flow; or by removing the flap and reattaching it to the breast area using microsurgery techniques. These techniques may utilize the patient's own tissue exclusively or be combined with an implant. The nipple and areola are reconstructed at a separate stage.
Anesthesia: General anesthesia for creation of the breast mound; general or local anesthesia with sedation for follow-up procedures.
Length of Stay: Some procedures require hospitalization. Most procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis.
What to Expect: Oral medications relieve initial discomfort of swelling and tenderness. Any sutures or surgical drains will be removed in 5-10 days.
Resuming Activities: Light activity may be resumed in a day or two. Non-strenuous work may be resumed in 5-10 days. Other normal activities, including vigorous exercise and intimate contact, may resume after several weeks.
Duration of results: Generally permanent. A reconstructed breast will never feel exactly like a normal breast. With breast implants, mammograms require special techniques and additional views, well known by most mammographers.
Risks: Bleeding, fluid collection, infection, excess scar tissue, changes in breast or nipple sensation. If breast implants are used in reconstruction, skin wrinkling over the implant may occur. If implants leak or rupture, additional surgery may be required to replace one or both implants. All surgeries carry risks associated with anesthesia.
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