An Overview of Breast Reconstruction Surgery

With the recent decision by Angelina Jolie to have preventative double mastectomy surgery based on her genetic risk of breast cancer, the topic of breast reconstruction surgery has been prevalent in the media. More and more women are searching for information about this potentially life changing surgery. In the past decade, major advancements have been made in breast reconstruction surgery procedures following a mastectomy. Women no longer need to worry about long, jagged scars; new techniques allow surgeons to rebuild a woman’s breasts with minimal scarring and in such a way that benefits her self image.

Breast reconstruction surgery is performed immediately following a mastectomy; the procedure rebuilds the breast mound so it is approximately the same size and shape as it was before. The two principle types of reconstruction surgery are implant-based and autologous.


Implant-Based Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Implant-based reconstruction requires a much shorter recovery time than with autologous breast reconstruction. This procedure usually provides better symmetry for women who have had a bilateral or double mastectomy. However, there are a few important considerations before you decide on the right procedure. The use of implants in reconstruction surgery often requires two procedures – the first is the placement of a tissue expander, sort of a saline-filled balloon, and the second is the removal of the expander and replacement of it with the implant. Other potential issues include the fact that breast implants may not last a lifetime, they may break or rupture, occasional MRIs may be needed to make sure silicone gel implants have not broken, and routine mammograms may be more difficult.


Autologous Breast Reconstruction Surgery

During autologous procedures, the surgeon can relocate tissue from the back, the buttocks, or the abdomen to reconstruct the breast. The two principle benefits are that only one procedure is required and that your own tissue is being used to reconstruct the breast. Some people believe that breasts from autologous reconstruction look and feel more natural. However, this procedure usually requires a longer recovery time, often results in additional scarring, and affects a second area of the patient’s body.

Implant-based breast reconstruction is more popular because it is less invasive, patients have more choices as to the shape and size of their reconstructed breasts, comes with a shorter recovery time, and the results are generally more predictable. However, implant-based reconstruction is not generally recommended for patients who undergo radiation treatment as tissues and blood supply needed to support the new implants can be impaired.

It is important for anyone undergoing a mastectomy to speak with her doctor about all the available options. The timing and type of your breast reconstruction surgery depends on your needs, specific medical conditions, and the type of breast cancer treatment. Along with your doctor, you can decide on the best options for you situation.