Every year in our country alone, hundreds of thousands of women undergo breast augmentation surgery. The procedure in which breast implants are inserted to round out and enhance the shape and size of the breasts may seem logical after breast cancer treatment, as well. While breast implants can play an integral role in reshaping the new, cancer-free breasts, there are nuances in the way surgery is performed that can only be understood by a surgeon with particular training and experience. We discuss those nuances here.
What is Breast Reconstruction?
Reconstructive breast surgery is a custom-tailored procedure that intends to restore the appearance of the breasts after breast cancer surgery. Today, surgeons may achieve optimal results using saline or silicone implants or fat cells taken from another part of the patient’s body. To properly restore shape, it is vital that the surgeon has an awareness of the proper technique to offset the sometimes-severe absence of natural tissue after partial or full mastectomy. Throughout the process of breast reconstruction, attention must be given to both size and symmetry, especially if only one breast has been treated for cancer. In some cases, breast reconstruction involves augmentation in which the breasts are enlarged.
Two-Stage Breast Reconstruction
Surgeons treating women for breast cancer prefer to perform a single-stage process whenever possible. This means that pre-selected breast implants are inserted immediately after natural breast tissue is removed. In some situations, it is necessary to perform reconstruction in two stages. This may occur when a particular breast size is desired and there is not enough tissue to accommodate it.
Two-stage breast reconstruction is not necessarily related to a desire for large breasts. We must also consider the starting point. Depending on how much breast tissue has been removed during a mastectomy, gradual tissue expansion may be necessary just to achieve a smaller cup size. The treatment process involves the insertion of a tissue expander. This structure can be placed into the breast capsule during the mastectomy procedure.
The unadjusted tissue expander is flat and unnoticeable at first. A few weeks after the initial surgery, sterile saline fluid is injected into the expander via an anterior port. Each time the expander is filled slightly more, the chest muscle feels tight. Most patients do not describe this is uncomfortable. Some do not notice it at all. The process of filling and waiting continues until the desired shape has been achieved. At this point, there is only waiting. A period of time with the fully-filled expander allows the chest muscles, tissue, and skin to acclimate to the new shape. After a few months, the expander is replaced with a breast implant.
Breast reconstruction is more complicated than the average breast augmentation. To discuss your options with Dr. Patel, contact our office. We’re happy to schedule a convenient consultation for you.