Breast Reconstruction

Breast reconstruction involves rebuilding a breast shape after breast surgery using an implant or tissue from another part of the body. It may involve several operations.

Breast reconstruction can sometimes be done at the same time as a mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or it may be done later (delayed reconstruction). Some women choose to have surgery to the other breast as well so that both breasts look similar.

Benefits of breast reconstruction

One of the benefits of a breast reconstruction is that there’s no need to wear a breast prosthesis. Having a breast reconstruction can also help to reduce feelings of grief or loss after breast surgery and can lead to fewer sexual or self-esteem problems. Some women say that having a breast reconstruction means they are reminded less about their illness.

Deciding about breast reconstruction

It’s important for women to have realistic expectations about breast reconstruction. This includes understanding what’s involved and how the breast might look afterwards. When deciding about breast reconstruction, it’s important to bear in mind that the new breast will not look and feel like the old one. Depending on the type of reconstruction there may be scars on the breast and on other parts of the body.

Things to think about include:

  • the cost of surgery
  • the recovery time
  • whether an expert surgeon is available to do the operation
  • what other treatments may be needed.

Talking to other women who have had breast reconstructions or looking at photographs of women who have had similar operations can be helpful.

Breast reconstruction using implants

Breast implants are usually made from silicone gel and are inserted onto the chest wall, underneath the muscle and skin of the chest. Before inserting the implant, a special bag, called a tissue expander, is inserted underneath the muscles on the chest wall. Over the next few weeks or months, fluid is injected into the bag about once a week to stretch the muscle and skin. When the expander bag has reached the right size, a second operation is performed to remove the bag, and the permanent implant is inserted.

Advantages of breast reconstruction using an implant:

  • the operation is relatively simple
  • hospital stays and recovery periods are usually quite short
  • surgery and scarring is only in and around the breast area.

Disadvantages of breast reconstruction using an implant:

  • the reconstructed breast may not be as natural looking as with other types of breast reconstruction
  • scar tissue can form around the implant making the breast feel firm and uncomfortable
  • the implant may have to be replaced later, or removed if there is an infection
  • radiotherapy after an implant may cause the tissue around the implant to become harder and may make the implant appear smaller with time.