The goal of a breast reconstruction is to recreate the volume and shape of a breast. This is most commonly performed after a mastectomy for cancer treatment or as a prophylactic measure, but may also be required following trauma or to correct a developmental problem.
Breast reconstruction can be performed at the time of mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or at a time after healing and completion of cancer treatment (delayed reconstruction). Many women may choose to undergo a reconstruction several years after their cancer treatment.
For many women, reconstructive surgery is an important step in the psychological recovery from breast cancer and a mastectomy. Whether or not to proceed with a reconstruction is a personal decision. Your breast cancer treatment team and reconstructive surgeon can help you by providing information relating to your individual situation. Support groups can also be of great benefit.
In order to achieve a more balanced feel and symmetrical appearance, a breast reconstruction may involve simply replacing the fullness lost in one breast, or altering the size of the other. Sometimes additional procedures such as a breast lift, breast augmentation, or breast reduction may be performed to achieve the desired results.
Dr Avery has over a decade of experience in plastic surgery and is highly skilled in the various techniques used in breast reconstruction.
Whether you are seriously considering a breast reconstruction or simply looking for more information, book a consultation with Dr Avery so together you can discuss your options and if necessary, develop a personalised treatment plan.
If the reconstruction is being performed with the mastectomy or at a later date
The amount of skin and breast tissue remaining in both breasts
If the operation involves both breasts
Skin quality and elasticity
The amount of excess abdominal fat
If breast implants are an option
If radiotherapy has been used in your cancer treatment
Lost breast volume can be replaced using a flap of skin and tissue (known as an autologous flap) which is usually taken from the lower abdomen during a tummy tuck, but may be taken from the back, buttocks, or other areas. A breast implant is also an option and can be used in combination with a tissue flap reconstruction.
In addition to a flatter stomach, reconstructing the breast using a tummy tuck or other form of tissue transplant allows the reconstructed breast to fluctuate in weight naturally, yet this procedure may involve more scarring and longer recovery times than that of a breast implant.
The procedure for inserting a breast implant will depend on the amount of skin left on the breast post-mastectomy. If the skin across the breast is left flat and tight, a temporary tissue expander may need to be inserted to stretch the area over several weeks before the implant is put in place.
A new nipple-areola complex may need to be reconstructed using existing tissue, as it is often removed during a mastectomy. After the reconstructed nipple has healed, areola pigmentation can be achieved by tattooing the area for a more symmetrical look.
The length of a breast reconstruction surgery can last anywhere from 2–8 hours depending on the techniques being used, whether one or both breasts are being reconstructed, and whether other procedures such as a breast reduction, breast lift, nipple reshaping, or breast augmentation are being performed.
As with any operation, you will need to organise somebody to drive you home and it is recommended that you have another adult stay with you during the first night after surgery.
The full recovery period for a breast reconstruction can vary from a few weeks to a few months. Some bruising, pain and swelling can be expected and physical activity should be limited within the first 6 weeks, as follows:
The first 2 weeks after the procedure:
It is recommended that you don’t put any unnecessary strain on your body. This includes exercise, picking up children or even driving, as any pain or discomfort experienced while driving could be dangerous.
Between 2 and 4 weeks after the procedure:
You can begin to do some light exercises such as picking up children and driving, as long as you aren’t straining your body too much.
Between 4 and 6 weeks after the procedure:
You can begin returning to normal activities with care, such as mild exercise. After 6 weeks’ recovery you should be able to resume a normal level of physical activity.
Patients recovering from a breast reconstruction may be required to wear a compression garment for up to 6 weeks to provide support and reduce post-operative pain or swelling.
A customised pain relief program will be created for each patient and issued before leaving the hospital. If circumstances change at any stage during the recovery period, then the pain medication can certainly be adjusted accordingly.