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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Reconstruction Without Implants

If you’ve had a mastectomy and want breast reconstruction, you may be able to use your own body tissue, rather than implants.

When you use your own tissue, it’s commonly called a flap procedure. It moves healthy tissue from one area of the body to the chest. Talk with your doctor to find out if this is an option for you.

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What Are the Benefits of Breast Reconstruction Without Implants?

The shape, feel, and contour of a breast reconstructed from a woman's own tissue more closely resembles the characteristics of a natural breast.

What Are the Challenges?

Flap surgery is more involved than implant surgery. And, like all major surgeries, you could have complications, such as bleeding, infection, or poor healing.

Flap procedures require a longer hospital stay than implant surgery; on average 5 to 6 days versus 1 or 2 days for an implant.

It leaves scars in the area the tissue is taken from, but they fade over time.

Where Does the Tissue Come From?

The most common flap procedure uses muscle and skin taken from the area below your belly button and above your pubic bone. Muscle, skin, and fat are moved from your belly to your chest. After the flap of tissue is transferred, the surgeon shapes it into the contour of a breast.

If taking tissue from your stomach isn’t right for you, the surgeon may use tissue from your back -- or even your bottom -- to make the new breast.

How Is the Flap Procedure Done?

There are two basic methods for the reconstruction:

Pedicle or tunneling procedure. With this technique, the section of tissue being moved stays attached to its blood supply. The flap has a better chance of surviving because the blood supply remains intact, but the breast may not look the way you want.

Free-flap procedure. With this technique, the tissue being moved is disconnected from its blood supply and then reconnected to vessels in its new location using microsurgical techniques. This is a more complicated procedure. The biggest risk is that the blood vessels may get clogged and the flap might die. The benefit is that the reconstruction looks more like a natural breast.

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