What is breast reconstruction?
reconstruction is surgery to rebuild the size and shape of a breast after your
breast has been removed (mastectomy) because of cancer. It is
done by a
plastic surgeon. Your breast surgeon can refer you to
a surgeon who has special training in breast reconstruction.
Reconstruction can be done at the same time as a mastectomy or at a later
time. If you need to have
radiation therapy after mastectomy, you may need to
wait to have reconstruction after you have finished radiation and the tissue
A reconstructed breast will not look or feel just the
way your breast did, but most women are happy with the results. To get an idea
of what to expect, tell your surgeon you want to:
- See pictures of other women who had the
surgery you are considering.
- Talk to women who have had the
surgery to find out more about their experience.
Dealing with cancer and having a mastectomy are
stressful. If trying to decide about breast reconstruction is adding to your
stress, you don't have to make a decision now. You can always have it done
later if you want to.
How is breast reconstruction done?
There are two
types of breast reconstruction:
Implants may be filled with salt water (saline) or silicone gel. A fluid-filled
implant may be placed right away, or a balloon (tissue expander) may be put in
first. Over a few months, the expander is filled with saline until its size
matches the other breast. Then the expander is removed and the implant is put
in. For more information, see:
- Breast implant surgery.
Tissue flap surgery.
The surgeon makes a new breast shape from skin, fat, and muscle taken from
another area of your body (belly, buttocks, thigh, or back). There are several
different types of tissue flap surgery. These surgeries are more complicated
than putting in an implant, but the results look and feel more natural and last
longer than implants. For more information, see:
- Tissue flap surgery.
If you want, the surgeon can also make a new nipple and
areola (the darker area around the nipple). This is usually done 3 or 4 months
after breast reconstruction to give the new breast time to heal.
How can I compare the two types of reconstruction?
Comparing breast reconstruction types
Type of reconstruction
- Is an easier surgery with a quicker
recovery time than tissue flap surgery.
- Creates less scarring than
tissue flap surgery.
- May not last for the rest of your
life. May need to be replaced or removed later.
- May not be a good
option for women with large breasts (C cup or larger).
- Should last the rest of your
- Because it uses your own tissues, you have more feeling in
the new breast than with an implant.
- Takes longer to heal and has a greater
risk of complications from surgery.
- Creates scars on parts of
your body where tissue was removed.
When is breast reconstruction not recommended?
Most women are able to have breast reconstruction. But some conditions
increase your risk of serious problems after surgery. Breast reconstruction may
not be a good choice if you:
- Are obese (body mass index
- Have blood flow (circulation) problems or other serious
health problems, such as
high blood pressure, or heart disease.
Smoke. Smoking interferes with blood flow. This can cause more problems after
surgery, delay healing, and lead to larger scars.
If you have any of these problems, you may be able to
have reconstruction done later if you lose weight, quit smoking, or get your
disease under control.
What are the benefits of breast reconstruction?
- You may feel better about the way you look.
Swimsuits and other types of clothing may fit you better, and your body may
feel more balanced.
- It may help you to feel emotionally
What are the risks of breast reconstruction?
- As with any type of surgery, there is a risk
of infection, usually in the first week or two after
- Problems can happen that require more surgery to fix. For
- The tissue used for a flap can die if
blood supply to the tissue is not restored.
- Scar tissue around an
implant can harden and squeeze the implant. This is called capsular
contraction. It can cause hardening of the breast tissue and changes in the
shape and look of the breast. This is more likely to happen in a breast that
has been treated with radiation.
- Blood or clear fluid may collect
in the wound.
- If the incisions don't heal right, the implant may become
exposed. When that happens, the implant has to be removed.
- Other problems sometimes occur, such as pain or
discomfort in the breast area.
What else should I think about?
- Your breast is a very intimate part of your
body. So it is important to find a plastic surgeon you trust and feel
- If you are having only one breast removed and
reconstructed, you might need to have surgery on the other breast to reduce,
enlarge, or lift it so it better matches the new breast.
- If you had
only one breast removed, you will still need to have regular mammograms to
check for cancer in the other breast. Talk to your doctor about whether you
need to have mammograms of the reconstructed breast.
implants can leak inside the body without causing any symptoms. The U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that women who get silicone implants
MRI tests starting 3 years after they get the implant
and every 2 years after that.
If you need more information, see:
- Breast implant surgery.
- Tissue flap surgery.