With 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer, there is an increasing number of women who will lose their breast to cancer. Breast reconstruction offers the possibility to rebuild the breast physically and also to help restore a patients body image. The decision to have breast reconstruction is a very personal one. As a plastic surgeon, it is my job to guide patients through the process and to explain all of their options. In this blog, I would like to address some of the most common questions my patients have regarding breast reconstruction.

What is breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction is when a breast reconstructive surgeon (plastic surgeon) performs a surgical procedure, or multiple procedures, to reconstruct a breast mound after a patient has a part, or all, of the breast removed for cancer treatment. I always tell patients that the reconstruction process is a marathon and not a sprint. The process may involve multiple procedures over the course of a year or more, depending on the individual situation.

Reconstruction can be performed using implants or a patients own tissue, which is called autologous reconstruction. Although there are great options for reconstruction, none are a direct match for a natural breast. If a patient chooses not to have breast reconstruction, a prosthesis can be made to give the appearance of breasts when clothed.

Who can have breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction is an option for most patients, it can be performed for those who have had or will have their breast removed for breast cancer treatment or prevention. Even partial removal of the breast, called a lumpectomy, may be reconstructed if necessary. The ability to have reconstruction may also depend on one’s overall health.

When can I have breast reconstruction?

The breast reconstruction process can start at the time the breast is removed; this is called immediate reconstruction. This does not mean that the reconstruction will be complete after the first surgery, but that the process will be started. Reconstruction can also be performed months or years after having had a mastectomy, this is called delayed reconstruction.

What are my reconstructive options?

There are a variety of different ways to reconstruct the breast depending on the specific cancer treatment and a patients preference and anatomy. In the setting of a mastectomy, reconstruction can be performed using two different modalities. One modality would be an implant-based reconstruction, which usually consists of a 2-stage process. A tissue expander (temporary inflatable implant) would be placed at the time of the mastectomy, above or below the muscle. There would be a second stage for the exchange of the tissue expanders for permanent breast implants. Reconstruction can also be achieved with the use of one’s own tissue (autologous). The most common type of autologous reconstruction consists of using abdominal tissue, in some ways similar to having a tummy tuck, but more involved. Other tissues can also be used to reconstruct a breast such as back tissue, thigh tissue and gluteal tissue.

Which method is best depends on several factors such as: the individual cancer treatment, need for chemotherapy or radiation, your physique, medical history, prior surgeries, and personal preference. When it comes to breast reconstruction there is not a one size fits all solution. Each patients journey is unique and their own.

 

What questions do you have?

Do you have more questions about reconstruction? Let us know in the comments below what other questions you might have that you would like to get answered about breast reconstruction or other facets of battling breast cancer.

Erin Doren, MD

Erin Doren, MD

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin

Erin Doren is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, specializing in breast cancer reconstruction and microsurgery and serves on the Board of Directors for Savage Support Corp. In addition to being a clinician, Erin conducts research which includes studies investigating outcomes after breast reconstruction focusing on psychological well-being, quality-of-life and body image.

Erin Doren, MD

Erin Doren, MD

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin

Erin Doren is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, specializing in breast cancer reconstruction and microsurgery and serves on the Board of Directors for Savage Support Corp. In addition to being a clinician, Erin conducts research which includes studies investigating outcomes after breast reconstruction focusing on psychological well-being, quality-of-life and body image.

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