Breast reconstruction is often a difficult and emotional surgical journey. Dr Matthew Peters from Valley Plastic Surgery in Brisbane QLD counts breast reconstruction as one of his specialties and says there are several things a breast reconstruction patient must think about when considering this surgery. The first step is to consult with a supportive plastic surgeon who is able to guide you through the best reconstructive options for you and what each step of your reconstruction journey will entail. Dr Peters has provided the below general information regarding breast reconstruction in the hope it might help some patients prepare for the process a little better.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is often extremely difficult for a person to get their head around. For some people the next devastating blow is the loss of one or both breasts if a mastectomy is recommended as the best course of action. Losing your breasts can be difficult particularly for women, however most people accept that if it’s going to save your life then it’s worth doing. The next decision is whether or not to reconstruct the breast/s and if so finding the right plastic and reconstructive surgeon to work with you during this journey to life after breast cancer.
For those who chose to go ahead with a reconstruction there are many different options. It is important that you understand each of them and speak with your plastic and reconstructive surgeon about which option is right for you. There are two main types; an immediate reconstruction, which occurs in the same operation as your mastectomy with the breast surgeon and plastic surgeon working together, or a delayed reconstruction which occurs in a separate operation after you have recovered from mastectomy. The suitability of each of these options is dependant on each individual’s anatomy, history and requirements, and will be discussed with your plastic and reconstructive surgeon.
Tissue Expanders and Implants
A mastectomy is an operation where breast tissue is removed, usually as a result of a positive breast cancer diagnosis. This procedure often leaves the patient without a large enough breast pocket to take a permanent implant so a tissue expander is used. A tissue expander is an implant that can be inflated slowly to stretch the skin and muscle to a size that can accomodate a permanent breast implant. Until recently this was done with regular injections of saline into the expander in clinic. Now thanks to new technology patients can inflate the expander themselves (with guidance from their plastic surgeon), using an external device that slowly inflates the implant with gas. Your surgeon will guide you as to which option is best for you. Once fully expanded the tissue expander is then removed and a permanent implant is put into the new breast pocket.
Tissue flap reconstruction
Implants are not always necessary or preferable for some women. An alternative reconstructive option is what’s called a tissue flap reconstruction, where your own skin, muscle and fat is harvested from your back, butt or abdomen (or anywhere else your surgeon might identify as suitable) and used to create a new breast/s. This procedure can create a more natural looking breast from your own body and while the initial procedure is a more involved and difficult surgery, as it is made up of your own tissue it is often with you for life.
Nipple and Areola Re-creation
The final stage in a breast reconstruction (if the nipple has been removed) is the re-creation of the nipple and areola. There are a couple of options for nipple and areola reconstruction; your surgeon may use the existing breast tissue or they may prefer to graft the skin required from another part of your body. This final procedure is often followed by nipple and areola tattooing which gives the area color and a more realistic look. Nipple prostheses are also available for those who do not wish to undergo any more invasive procedures, however this option is not as popular due to it’s temporary nature.
External Breast Prosthesis
For those women who are not sure about having implants or any sort of reconstruction, or for those women for whom it’s not possible, there is the option of an external breast prosthesis which is essentially artificial breasts designed to replicate the look of real breasts and is worn underneath your clothing. There are different designs available, eg. some fit within a bra and others are actually attached to your skin.
Going through breast reconstruction following a breast cancer diagnosis can be long and emotional. Having support during this time is essential, and finding a plastic surgeon who you feel comfortable with will help make this process a lot more manageable. Dr Matthew Peters is known for his patient and caring nature. If you’d like to arrange a consultation with Dr Peters you can phone his clinic on 07 3488 8118.