Breast reconstruction refers to the re-creation of one or both breasts after having them removed due to cancer or as a preventative measure against cancer. The plastic surgeon can do this through placement of an implant/s or autologous reconstruction where a flap of tissue taken from another part of your body is used to create the shape of a breast. We chatted to Dr Isolde Hertess, Plastic Surgeon based at Cairns Plastic Surgery in QLD, about this highly emotional procedure.
Losing a breast through cancer can be one of the most challenging things a woman will face in her lifetime. Whilst surviving cancer is something to celebrate, having one or both breasts removed can affect a woman’s confidence, self-esteem, her feelings of sexiness and many other aspects of her life. Dr Hertess says Breast Reconstruction can be a big step in regaining some sense of normally after the big C came into a patient’s life. “The loss of a breast can lead to withdrawal from social life and disruption of regular activities, but astounding breast reconstruction surgery results can be achieved today. With expert guidance and a highly-proficient surgeon, breasts resembling the ones removed is a possibility. In many cases, patients have a degree of control, making choices that reflect outcomes, such as the desired size and shape of synthetic breast implants. Breast reconstruction is a genuine step forward during a time of healing and recovery. Cancer is an illness that doesn’t truly seem defeated until all traces are gone, and for many women, breast reconstruction is an essential component of complete recovery.”
Breast Reconstruction Techniques
While plastic surgery has come leaps and bounds in the areas of breast reconstruction over the last decade, Dr Hertess says it’s important for patients to appreciate surgical limitations. “After surgery, there will be visible incision scars, placed as discreetly as possible, that should fade markedly over time. Reconstructive surgical procedures work together for better overall results, and diverse operative procedures often take place simultaneously, such as tissue expansion and breast implants. In this procedure, healthy breast tissue is progressively expanded for several weeks prior to the implant being inserted, providing greater opportunity for the surgeon to conceal scars and create natural looking results.
“In other situations, a tissue flap graft is used to rebuild breasts. Symmetry and shape of breasts can be restored, although there may be variations in skin texture and colour. The buttocks, abdomen or back are typical skin graft donor sites. For many women, additional procedures on the unaffected breast, such as a breast lift, breast reduction or breast augmentation will help to restore a balanced and more youthful appearance.”
Nipple and Areolas in Breast Reconstruction
Nipples and the areolas are often also removed during the mastectomy. Occasionally they can be repositioned and reattached to create natural looking breasts but Dr Hertess says that’s not always possible. “It can be preferable to wait until breast tissues have adequately healed so nipple repositioning can be performed along with other adjustments to breast size, shape and position.”
Dr Hertess says a breast reconstruction typically takes around 6 hours and the patient can usually be home within a couple of days after the procedure, a little longer with a flap procedure.
If you’d like more information on breast reconstruction you can visit the Cairns Plastic Surgery website.