If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and will have a mastectomy, your doctor has probably discussed what comes next. Often, if you choose breast reconstruction, the process starts at the time of your mastectomy, but it can also be done at a later time – even years later.
Once the reconstruction process starts, it’s typically two or three stages – restoring the breast, refining the shape of the reconstructed breast and then reconstructing the nipples if desired. But every breast reconstruction procedure should start with a consultation with your physician.
Step One: Consultation with Your Team
Not every woman chooses to have reconstruction after mastectomy, so it’s important to weigh your options with your team, which should include your breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist and anyone else who is part of your treatment.
If you do choose reconstruction, your physician should discuss whether you will have your procedure at the same time you are having your mastectomy or at a later time. Your physician may recommend delaying your breast reconstruction based on the course of your treatment. Sometimes chemotherapy and radiation can delay the ability to have immediate reconstruction. Your surgeons should discuss the risks and benefits associated with all breast reconstruction procedures to allow you to make the choice that is best for you as well as helping you understand when the right time is for you to successfully complete the procedure of your choice.
Step Two: Mastectomy and Reconstruction
Choosing immediate reconstruction, at the time of mastectomy, is a great choice if it’s possible for the patient to do so. Those who opt to have breast reconstruction at a later time and have their mastectomy completed first can still choose from the wide variety of breast reconstruction procedures offered to all patients. At the time of mastectomy, tissue expanders can be inserted to help preserve the shape of the breast and conserve breast skin should definitive reconstructive surgery be scheduled for the future.
Step Three: Restoring the Breast
Now it’s time to rebuild your breast. The two most common reconstruction procedures are autologous breast reconstruction and implant reconstruction. During autologous reconstruction, a plastic surgeon uses your own tissue, skin and fat from another place on your body – typically from your buttock, abdomen or thigh – to recreate your breast mound. Should you choose implant reconstruction, our surgeons at The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction utilize the most state of the art techniques to achieve the most natural result. Direct to implant and above the muscle implant reconstruction with acellular dermal matrix are examples of the procedures we offer.
Step Four: Refinement
Sometimes the shape of the reconstructed breasts need to be refined a bit, so another surgical procedure might be necessary. Some patients also choose to have the unaffected breast modified to achieve even closer symmetry, and that can be done at this stage.
Step Five: Nipple Reconstruction
If you have chosen to have a nipple-preserving mastectomy, you may only need one or two stages of surgery to complete the restoration process. However, if you need nipple reconstruction, it can be done either during Stage Two or Three. We typically like to wait at least three months between all procedures if possible to allow for healing before making further modifications. A few months after the nipples are reconstructed, you may also undergo a tattooing procedure to add more natural coloring to the nipple. Some women choose only 3-D tattooing as their definitive choice for nipple reconstruction.
Recovery time will vary from patient to patient. Your individual surgery timeline may also differ depending on your particular needs.
The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction believes in good health for everyone. If you or someone you know is in need of breast reconstruction, contact them at NaturalBreastReconstruction.com or toll-free at 866-374-2627.