Women who have had mastectomy surgery to treat breast cancer and are ready for breast reconstruction may choose from two main types of breast reconstruction. Which type is best for you depends on your health, preferences, and your unique needs. It’s important to allow yourself time to get fully informed in order to make the best decision between your breast reconstruction options.
Types of breast reconstruction procedures
While a mastectomy removes the entire breast, the skin and nipple can sometimes be saved. The two main breast reconstruction techniques are implant reconstruction and tissue (flap) reconstruction. These procedures have different variations and can also be combined to rebuild a breast.
Reconstructing the shape of your breast with a breast implant is a common option after mastectomy. Implant reconstruction typically requires at least two operations.
The first procedure is a surgery that places a tissue expander into the breast to expand the skin enough to encompass an implant. This tissue expander is a flat “water balloon” that is inserted and will be gradually filled (expanded) over a period of time until the desired size is reached.
The second procedure replaces the tissue expander with the breast implant of your choosing.
Breast Reconstruction Using Your Own Tissue (Flap Procedures)
A tissue flap procedure rebuilds the shape of your breast using tissue from other parts of your body, which may include your abdomen, back, thighs, or buttocks. This type of breast reconstruction looks and feels more natural than breast implants. Unlike implants, tissue flaps will never need to be replaced.
Flaps require more complex surgery and a longer recovery time than breast implant procedures. Flap operations leave two scars, one in the place where the tissue was taken and one on the reconstructed breast. These scars will fade over time.
Which type of breast reconstruction is best for you?
If you’ve decided to have breast reconstruction, once you understand the procedure options themselves, it’s important to think with some key factors and questions to help you make your decision, including the following:
- Is there enough tissue available for reconstruction? Very thin women may not have enough excess abdominal or other tissue to use this area for breast reconstruction.
- Are you willing to have more than one surgery as part of the reconstruction? Implants require two procedures.
- How quickly do you want to be able to recover from surgery? Implant reconstruction has a shorter recovery period.
- Are you willing to make changes in other parts of your body that would be used to donate tissue for breast reconstruction?
Dr. Wirth will talk with you about these questions and many other factors, including your medical history, overall health, body type, and aesthetic goals, to determine which type of breast reconstruction is best for you. He will explain the limits, risks, and benefits of each option. You will have a chance to talk about your concerns and priorities and settle on a reconstruction plan you feel confident and comfortable with.