Skip to content

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Breast Reconstruction After Mastectomy

Breast reconstruction can be done right after a mastectomy while you are still under anesthesia, or at a later time. Sometimes women wait because they are not emotionally or medically able to undergo additional surgery, or because they need radiation therapy following their breast cancer and  mastectomy. Reconstruction is major surgery that may require more than one procedure. Women should be fully informed about what is involved.

Women have several options in breast reconstruction surgery, including implants and flap procedures.

Recommended Related to Breast Cancer

Unusual Cancers of the Chest

Breast Cancer Most breast tumors in children are fibroadenomas, which are benign (not cancer). Rarely, these tumors become large phyllodes tumors (cancer) and begin to grow quickly. If a benign tumor begins to grow quickly, a fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy or an excisional biopsy will be done. The tissues removed during the biopsy will be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form...

Read the Unusual Cancers of the Chest article > >

  • Implants involve stretching the skin with a special tissue expander, then inserting a silicone-gel or saline (salt water) implant. The tissue expander can be filled to a desired volume by injecting additional saline periodically, usually once a week for a few sessions. Many women find these sessions moderately painful, but are often pleased with the final result and the fact that they have more control over the final size of the breast. Because of safety concerns, in 1992 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned silicone implants, except for those women participating in approved clinical studies. In 2003, an FDA panel that reviewed 10 years of data recommended the ban be lifted, as long as women were informed before the procedure and were monitored by an outside agency for 10 years after surgery. The FDA has not yet lifted the ban. For more information, see Breast Implants After Breast Cancer Surgery.
  • Tissue flap procedures involve using a woman's own tissue taken from the abdomen or back to create a breast mound to reconstruct the breast. Taking abdominal tissue is called a TRAM flap, which is short for transverse rectus abdominis muscle. Taking tissue from the back is called latissimus dorsi flaps. These procedures require a plastic surgeon who is experienced in this type of surgery.

The areola (darker area surrounding the nipple) can be tattooed. A nipple can also be constructed from tissue taken from the back or abdominal flap and tattooed to resemble the color of a nipple. In rare cases, the nipple from the original breast can be reattached, but only if the surgeon is convinced that tissue is cancer-free. While reconstruction improves the appearance of the breast, because of a lack of nerve connections, the nipple will not rise or flatten in response to touch or temperature.

Breast reconstruction usually does not interfere with chemotherapy. If radiation therapy is needed, some doctors prefer to delay the reconstruction. 

Complications are not common but may include bleeding, scarring, and infection.

Breast Prostheses

Wearing breast prosthesis is an option for women who choose not to have reconstruction after mastectomy or wide local excision. The artificial breast form made from silicone gel fits into a bra cup. At first, the prothesis may be cold and heavy but this feeling usually goes away.

Breast Reconstruction Tips

Before surgery, print out these Questions to Ask so you can better understand your care.

Also before breast cancer surgery, your doctor should provide:

  • Specific instructions to follow in the days before surgery.
  • An overview of the surgical procedures.
  • Information about recovery and follow-up care.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on June 26, 2012

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow