For many years, breast reconstruction surgery was primarily a procedure women would elect to perform following a cancer diagnosis that included a lumpectomy or mastectomy.
It became a more routine surgical procedure in 1998 when the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (also known as “Janet’s Law”) was passed, requiring most group insurance plans that cover mastectomies and breast reconstruction.
Fast forward another decade. Plastic surgeons started seeing a new group of women electing to have various types of breast reconstruction surgery, partly due to the “breast implant removal’ movement.
There are many reasons women choose to remove their breast implants but most elect to include some type of breast reconstruction surgery once the implants are removed.
Whatever the reason, there is no doubt a newfound curiosity surrounding breast reconstruction procedures, leaving women with many questions about breast reconstruction techniques and the recovery process.
In this article, we hope to answer any questions about breast reconstruction, different types of breast reconstruction techniques, and tips for a successful recovery should you decide breast reconstruction is right for you.
What Is Breast Reconstruction Surgery & Who Can Benefit
Breast reconstruction utilizes several plastic surgery techniques to restore or recreate breasts to their normal shape and appearance.
Some techniques use saline or silicone breast implants, and others use a flap of tissue from your body to form a breast.
Several other techniques can be used as stand-alone procedures to reconstruct the breast or in conjunction with these methods. We will discuss your breast reconstruction surgery options a little further down.
People opt for breast reconstruction surgery for a variety of reasons. Many merely want to enhance the shape of their breasts for personal aesthetics; others elect to improve their breast shape after having a baby or losing a significant amount of weight, while some need reconstructive surgery to restore the appearance and symmetry of their breasts following a mastectomy, lumpectomy or implant removal.
Regardless of your reason for considering breast reconstruction, it is a great way to boost self-confidence.
Types Of Breast Reconstruction
Breast reconstruction generally falls into two categories: implant-based reconstruction or flap reconstruction. However, many women discover that a combination of several reconstruction procedures is needed to achieve their desired outcome.
Below is a list of techniques your breast surgeon might discuss with you during your breast reconstruction consultation.
A plastic surgeon uses saline or silicone implants to recreate breast tissue. When choosing breast augmentation, you have several implant options to discuss with your breast surgeon during your consultation.
Types of implant placement include:
- Under the muscle: With this technique, the breast surgeon lifts the chest muscle and places the implant underneath the muscle.
- Above the muscle: With this technique, the breast surgeon places the implant on top of the chest muscle. This technique typically requires less recovery because your chest muscle remains in place.
A plastic surgeon takes autologous tissue (fat, skin, blood vessels, and muscle) from your body and uses it to form a breast. This tissue is often referred to as a flap. Sometimes, surgeons move a flap through your body; this way, the flap retains its own blood supply. Or they may detach the flap from its blood supply and attach it to blood vessels in your chest.
Types of flap reconstruction include:
- DIEP Flap: Skin, fat, and blood vessels are taken from the lower belly. This type of flap reconstruction does not remove the underlying abdominal muscle.
- TRAM Fap: Skin, fat, blood vessels, and muscle are taken from the lower belly.
- LD Flap: Providers remove tissue and muscle from the back (latissimus dorsi.) They transplant this tissue, which is still connected to its own blood supply, through the back to the breast area.
- IGAP Flap: The tissue comes from your butt. Muscle is not used.
- SGAP Flap: This technique removes tissue from the butt but uses a different group of blood vessels than the IGAP flap.
- PAP Flap: Tissue from the inner and back of the thigh. Muscle isn’t used in this procedure.
- TUG Flap: Similar to a PAP flap, this technique uses tissue from the thigh. However, a TUG flap transplants muscle as well as tissue.
- SIEA or SIEP Flap: This procedure is similar to DIEP flap but uses different blood vessels.
Other breast surgeries are often performed as a stand-alone procedure when a woman wants to reshape or rebuild their breasts. This may happen in addition to the breast reconstruction methods above, such as:
- Breast Lift
- Breast Reduction
- Nipple/Areola Reconstruction
- Tissue Expander
What To Expect During And After Breast Reconstruction Surgery
Breast reconstruction surgery is performed in a hospital under anesthesia. You will be asleep and won’t feel any pain during the surgery.
Depending on the breast reconstruction method, you may be able to go home the same day as surgery, or you might need to stay in the hospital for several days to ensure you’re healing.
During surgery, your provider may insert a tube under your skin with one end sticking out from your chest. This is a drain that allows fluid and blood to drain as you recover. Your care team will teach you how to care for your drain and empty it. You will return to have the drains removed when you don’t need them anymore.
Your doctor will also have you wear a wide elastic bandage or a special surgical bra to help support your new breasts and minimize swelling.
After surgery, you will need someone to drive you home. It is also advised that you have someone at home with you the first week or two following surgery. You will likely require help with child/pet care, cooking, bathing, changing clothes, getting in and out of bed, etc.
Mild pain, discomfort, and tightness or pressure across your chest are expected during the early stages of recovery. Your doctor will often recommend prescription and over-the-counter pain medication. Always follow instructions carefully when taking medication.
You will likely experience some bruising and swelling. This can last up to 8 weeks. We understand that the appearance of your reconstructed breasts can be shocking right after surgery, be patient. It takes time for your breast to stabilize.
Recovery Tips For Post-Operative Breast Reconstruction Patients
Recovery duration depends on several factors, including but not limited to your overall health and the type of procedure you had.
No matter your recovery speed, you will need to avoid lifting, excess movement, exercise, and other activities for up to several months to give your body time to heal. Your doctor will inform you when you have healed enough to return to activities.
Here are some helpful tips to make your healing process faster and more comfortable.
- Carefully follow your doctor’s individualized post-op instructions.
- Do not smoke or drink alcohol.
- Get plenty of rest. This can be difficult for the first few days. Some patients find it more comfortable to sleep in a reclining chair.
- Eat plenty of protein. Your body will be working hard repairing cells and healing incisions and needs extra protein to be able to do this. If you are having trouble eating solid food, try making a fruit smoothie with a quality protein powder.
- Invest in a post-surgery bra that has built-in drain pockets.
- Make sure you have extra pillows and/or a wedge pillow to prop yourself up and make getting up and down easier.
- Have plenty of soft, loose clothing that can be put on with minimal arm movement or bending.
- If you don’t have anyone available to cook for you post-op, prepare and freeze meals in advance or schedule a food-delivery service so you don’t have to worry about cooking.
- Consider purchasing a bath chair and a quality sponge or other bath tools that will help make reaching body parts easier.
- As soon as your doctor gives you the green light, engage in light activities such as walking and gentle stretching. This will help prevent complications such as blood clots and aid recovery.
What Type Of Breast Reconstruction Surgery Is Best For You?
We understand if you feel overwhelmed. There are a lot of options when considering breast reconstruction surgery. Our board-certified breast surgeons and nurses take each patient case as unique. We will review your options and recommend the most appropriate technique for your needs and desired outcome.
Call 615-443-0901to schedule an initial consultation. We have locations in Mt. Juliet and Lebanon, Tennessee, for your convenience.