Breast reconstruction surgery is an option for women who have lost one or both breasts due to cancer or a medical condition. The surgery can restore balance to the body, helping patients feel “whole” again. Among patients who have survived cancer, breast cancer reconstruction has a high success rate.
Dr. Hensel is very involved with reconstruction due to breast cancer and breast cancer awareness, not only by providing surgery for his patients but by being an active board member with the local Susan G. Komen affiliate and by yearly financial support for our local Susan G. Komen chapter. His office staff has also been very active yearly with our local race for the cure and Michele Hensel served as the sponsorship chair for race for the cure in 2008 and 2009.
What to Expect During Your Breast Cancer Reconstruction
Beast reconstruction surgery takes place over several stages. Some women have a mastectomy and breast cancer reconstruction surgery at the same time. Others are advised to wait until after their mastectomy is complete to undergo breast reconstruction surgery. The following sections introduce patients to the breast reconstruction process.
General anesthesia is used during breast reconstruction surgeries. General anesthesia renders a patient unconscious and free from pain during the procedure. Patients are completely unaware of the surgery and have no memory of it taking place when they wake up. In addition to general anesthesia, a local anesthetic may be used to reduce postoperative pain in the reconstructed area. If you have any drug allergies, you should talk to your doctor about which anesthesia options are right for you.
The types of incisions your doctor makes will depend on which type of breast cancer reconstruction you undergo. Flap reconstruction techniques, which include TRAM flap reconstruction, latissimus dorsi reconstruction, and gluteal flap reconstruction, will require a greater number of incisions due to the fact that tissue is relocated to the breast from another area on the body (such as abdomen, back or buttocks). Patients should be aware that additional incisions will increase healing time and scarring. Though scars fade over time, it is rare that they will disappear completely. Implant breast reconstruction requires the fewest number of incisions and has a shorter healing time as a result.
Creating the Breast Mound
There are several different ways that a breast mound can be fashioned. One of the most common ways is to use either a silicone breast implant or a saline breast implant. This type of breast reconstruction begins by inserting a balloon expander beneath your skin and chest muscle in order to stretch the area. Over the course of several weeks or months, your doctor will add liquid to the balloon until the skin has stretched enough to accommodate the desired implant size. Surgery is then performed to insert the implant. Another option is to use a permanent skin expander that doubles as an expander balloon as well as a breast implant. This eliminates a second surgery to replace the skin expander with an implant. Complications associated with this type of breast cancer reconstruction include a possible leak or rupture of the implant or shifting of the implant.
Another way to create a breast mound is through flap reconstruction. In this breast reconstruction procedure, tissue is taken from your own body, either from the abdomen, back, or buttocks. The flap of tissue, which consists of some combination of skin, fat, or muscle, is then surgically relocated to the chest. In one method of flap reconstruction surgery, the tissue remains attached to its original site and is tunneled beneath the skin to the chest area, allowing it to retain its original blood supply. In another method, the tissue is completely removed from its original location and transplanted to the chest. The blood vessels in the transplanted tissue are then reattached to new ones in the chest area. In both types of flap reconstruction, the relocated tissue is used to create a breast mound. In many cases, an implant is also placed during this procedure. Flap reconstruction may not work for women who have large breasts or who are very thin. This surgery has a longer healing time than breast cancer reconstruction surgery that uses only implants. It also results in additional scars at the tissue donation site. With abdomen flap breast reconstruction, a tummy tuck is performed in conjunction with the breast reconstruction—this is an attractive feature to some women who are considering the procedure.
Sutures and Bandages
Your doctor will advise you on how to care for your sutures and how many times to change your bandages following your breast cancer reconstruction surgery. In general, recovery time after the procedure is approximately six weeks. During this time you will be asked to rest and avoid strenuous physical activity as well as overhead reaching. The specifics of breast reconstruction recovery are unique for each patient, so you should discuss your individual case with your plastic surgeon.
Contact a Breast Reconstruction Surgeon for More Information
Breast reconstruction surgery can restore the confidence that cancer or another disease has taken from you. Call our office today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Hensel to discuss your breast reconstruction options.