Around one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, making breast cancer the second most common cancer in women in the United States. As with other cancers, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease will help to ensure a better outcome. For many women, part of that treatment may involve partial or full removal of one or both breasts. When just an area of the breast is removed, it is known as lumpectomy, whereas removal of the entire breast is called a mastectomy. If both breasts are removed, it’s known as a double mastectomy. Removing the breast is usually a very successful way of removing cancer, or the risk of future cancer in patients who have been deemed at greater risk than normal. However, breast removal can leave some women feeling self-conscious about their appearance. Fortunately, breast reconstruction surgery makes it possible for your feminine curves to be restored.
As the name suggests, breast reconstruction surgery is a procedure that is carried out with the aim of restoring the natural shape, symmetry, and size of the breasts, primarily following a lumpectomy or mastectomy. In some cases, breast reconstruction may be recommended for the correction of congenital breast deformities. If you are having breast reconstruction following cancer treatment, your oncologist and the cosmetic surgeon will decide on the best time for your surgery to take place. It may be necessary or recommended that you wait until any additional elements of your treatment or recovery take place before you undergo the surgery, for example, finishing chemotherapy.
There are several different options when it comes to how your breasts will be reconstructed. Some patients choose autologous breast reconstruction which involves using skin, fat, and sometimes muscle from another part of your body (usually the belly, buttocks, or inner thighs) to recreate the breasts. Since the tissue contains live nerves, it may be possible to combine the original breast nerves with the new ones, connecting them to encourage regeneration. This process, called resensation, takes several months to be effective but could enable the patient to also enjoy restored feeling in their breasts.
Other patients choose to have their breasts reconstructed using implants. Again, there are several choices. Silicone implants are the most popular. These pre-filled implants are available in various sizes and are inserted whole through incisions in the chest cavity. Meanwhile, saline implants are inserted empty and then filled with saline solution to the agreed size. The versatility of saline implants can make a better option for patients with asymmetrical breasts as they can be gradually adjusted to reach the right volume. Implants don’t last forever, and most patients will need them to be replaced in the future. However, they are very safe and a very effective way of restoring the appearance of your breasts.
Breast reconstruction focuses on restoring the breast shape and size, but at this point, the nipples won’t be addressed. If you would like to have your nipples reconstructed too, this can be done, but not until several months after your reconstruction surgery. Nipples can be reconstructed from the surrounding skin. Small incisions are used to allow your surgeon to manipulate and elevate the tissues into a position that mimics a natural nipple. Alternatively, some patients choose to get their nipple tattooed on at a later date, and there are specialist medical tattooists that have extensive experience in creating a realist-looking 3D nipple on the normal position it would sit on the breast. Just like choosing a cosmetic surgeon for your breast reconstruction, it is important to do your research when selecting a medical tattooist if you choose to have your nipples recreated in this way.