There are many different reconstruction techniques available. Your healthcare team can talk to you about the options that may be right for you, but it's in your best interest to do your own research, too. If you know someone else who had reconstruction, you might find it helpful to talk to her about her decision process, her doctors, and her satisfaction with the results.
There are two main techniques for reconstructing your breast:
- Implant reconstruction: Inserting an implant that's filled with saline (salt water) or silicone gel.
- Autologous or "flap" reconstruction: Using tissue transplanted from another part of your body (such as your belly, thigh, or back). Autologous reconstruction also may include an implant.
You also can choose whether or not to reconstruct your nipple. (In some cases, nipple-sparing mastectomy is possible, which means that your own nipple and the surrounding breast skin are preserved.)
Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, says Frank J. DellaCroce, M.D., F.A.C.S., plastic surgeon and co-founder of the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery. “Just like we have vanilla and chocolate, there are two ‘flavors’ of reconstruction: implants and flaps. That’s it. Implant reconstruction is easier on the front end: an easier surgery, easier to recover from, easier to understand. Flaps are more difficult to perform, more time-consuming, and a longer recovery. But on the back end, things flip. Over time, implants are more prone to problems and often require additional procedures to correct these problems. Flaps perform better over time; a flap done well should not need more attention over the course of a lifetime. So it’s all a matter of what’s right for the woman and her individual situation.”
Choices also may depend on what is available in your area. Over time, plastic surgeons have developed newer techniques for flap reconstruction that can avoid cutting through muscle at the donor site, such as the belly, or take tissue from different areas of the body, such as the buttocks. Still, these procedures require special skill and are not available at all medical centers or in all geographic areas. Your particular situation will play a role in what reconstruction option works best for you.
On the following pages, you can read about:
- Implant Reconstruction
- Autologous or "Flap" Reconstruction
- Altering the Opposite Breast
- Minor Corrections After Reconstruction
- Reconstruction After Lumpectomy
- Nipple Reconstruction