Reconstructing one or both breasts after cancer can help restore self-confidence and positive body image after cancer. Many women find breast reconstruction an important part of the healing process.
Dr. Marco Ellis is one of the most sought-after breast reconstruction surgeons in Chicago. If you have faced or are facing breast cancer and want information about your reconstructive options, Dr. Ellis is happy to speak with you during an in-person consultation. He will help you find the approach that is right for you.
Breast Reconstruction Treatment Options
There are a few different ways to restore the form and shape of the breasts after cancer surgery. Your anatomy, goals and cancer treatment plan will influence the approach recommended to you. There are pros and cons of each, all of which Dr. Ellis will review with you.
One option is implant-based reconstruction, in which saline or silicone implants are placed to recreate the look of one or both breasts. Implant-based reconstruction may require two or three procedure steps, including the use of a tissue expander device to create room inside the chest wall to accommodate the breast implant. The expander is gradually filled with saline to stretch the skin and muscle envelope. After wearing a tissue expander for a few months, you will undergo a procedure to replace the expander with the implant.
Another reconstructive option is flap-based reconstruction, in which a flap of your own skin, fat and muscle is used to recreate one or both breasts. The flap may be taken from your back, abdomen or buttocks. It may remain attached to the underlying muscle and be tunneled under the skin to the chest, or removed and transplanted to the chest. Flap-based reconstruction is considered to be a more complex approach than implant-based reconstruction, and may require a short hospital stay and a longer recovery.
The third option is to reconstruct the breasts using a combination of your own tissue and implants.
The timeframe for breast reconstruction depends on the type of reconstruction chosen and the cancer treatment plan.
Sometimes breast reconstruction can be performed at the same time as a mastectomy; in other cases, it may be performed at a later date. Some treatment plans can be completed in a single surgery; others require several surgeries spaced out over a few months up to a year.
If only one of your breasts requires reconstruction, Dr. Ellis may recommend breast lift, breast reduction or breast augmentation for the opposite breast so that the breasts look symmetrical and balanced. This procedure may be performed at a later date on an outpatient basis.
Normally the last stage of breast reconstruction is to recreate the nipple and areola. Skin grafting and other techniques can be used to reproduce a very natural-looking nipple-areolar complex.
Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Reconstruction
What are the pros and cons of implant-based reconstruction?
Implant-based reconstruction is a shorter surgery with less recovery time. It produces a beautiful breast shape with fewer scars.
On the other hand, implants usually require periodic maintenance. As time goes on, the risk of implant rupture and leaking increases (by approximately 1 percent per year). If you opt for implant-based reconstruction, there is a good chance you will need future surgeries to replace the implant(s).
What are the pros and cons of tissue-based reconstruction?
Tissue or flap-based reconstruction also creates a beautiful breast that looks and feels like natural tissue. There are no risks of capsular contracture or other implant-related complications. Furthermore, the area from which the tissue flap is taken looks slimmer and more sculpted after surgery.
The disadvantages of flap-based reconstruction are a longer and more complex surgery and, often, a longer hospital stay. Flap-based reconstruction also leaves additional scarring, as both the breast and donor area have scars.
What is the difference between immediate and delayed breast reconstruction?
Immediate reconstruction is performed at the time of mastectomy. Delayed reconstruction takes place after healing from mastectomy and any additional cancer treatments. Many women prefer immediate reconstruction as it reduces the overall number of surgeries needed.
Can I get implants if I need radiation?
Research suggests that radiation after implant-based reconstruction can increase the risk of complications such as capsular contracture. If you need radiation but want to use an implant to reconstruct the breast, you should discuss your options carefully with Dr. Ellis.
How can you make my other breast “match” the reconstructed breast?
Dr. Ellis will try to match the other breast closely to the reconstructed breast. He can accomplish this by reducing the other breast, increasing its size or lifting it in line with the reconstructed breast.
Can my nipple and areola be reconstructed?
Techniques such as skin grafting or three-dimensional tattooing can be used to recreate the appearance of a natural nipple and areola. Nipple-areolar reconstruction typically takes place two to three months after breast reconstruction.
When can I resume work after breast reconstruction?
It depends on the type of surgery you have and the type of work you do. In general, women who have implant-based reconstruction and work desk jobs return sooner than women who have flap-based reconstruction and/or physically strenuous jobs.
When can I drive after breast reconstruction?
You can drive as soon as you are no longer taking pain medication and have enough range of motion to feel confident in your driving ability.
Will I have sensation in the reconstructed breast?
You may develop sensation in the reconstructed breast, depending on the type of surgery you have. Restoring sensation is possible if your own tissue is used to reconstruct the breast, as the blood vessels and nerves can be reconnected to grow through the transferred tissue to the skin (whereas they cannot grow through an implant). Consider that it can take a long time to reclaim sensation, and sensation may be minimal. If this is a concern of yours, Dr. Ellis would be happy to discuss it in more detail with you during a consultation.