Breast reconstruction, often following breast surgery or a mastectomy, can be an important procedure for building confidence and helping you achieve the look you desire and feel more comfortable in the way you dress. Reconstruction of breasts can be done using natural muscle and tissue flaps or may be achieved through the utilisation of breast implants, also known as ‘breast augmentation.’
Breast reconstruction refers to surgery that works to reconstruct a new breast, often after removing the breast or part of the breast. The aim is to make it of similar size and shape to your original breast. However, it is important to note and understand that your breasts are unlikely to be identical after undergoing reconstructive surgery.
How Are Breasts Reconstructed?
Your surgeon will advise you about how your breasts should be reconstructed, taking into account what is best for you and your body, as well as recovery after that. Typically, breast reconstruction will include at least one of the following:
- Implants to replace all or some of your breast tissue
- Using tissue taken from another part of your body (autologous or ‘flap’ reconstruction)
- Using your tissue and implant.
Why Get a Breast Reconstruction?
You may have had, or are about to have, a mastectomy, either because you have been diagnosed with breast cancer or are at a very high risk of developing it in the future. Someone might choose to have breast reconstruction after their recovery and recuperation from a mastectomy for various reasons:
- To make the chest look balanced when wearing clothing, a bra or swimsuit
- To help clothes fit better and more naturally
- To permanently regain breast shape
- To feel better about body-image
What Does Breast Reconstruction Surgery Involve?
Breast reconstruction surgery depends on the specific case in question; therefore, there will usually be some changeable factors between different cases. However, depending on the precise nature of the breast reconstruction surgery in each case, at least one of the following will likely be involved:
Using breast implants – Implants are typically inserted underneath the skin or chest muscle following the mastectomy. In the first stage, the surgeon places a tissue expander device under the chest muscle or under the skin left after the mastectomy. The expander is slowly filled with saline during periodic visits to the doctor after surgery. In the second stage, the expander is removed and replaced with an implant after the chest tissue has relaxed and healed enough. The chest tissue is usually ready for the implant 2 to 6 months after a mastectomy.
In the second stage and after the chest tissue has relaxed and healed enough, the expander is removed and replaced with an implant. The chest tissue is usually ready for the implant 2 to 6 months after a mastectomy.
Using tissue (donated from the body) – A piece of tissue containing skin, fat, blood vessels, and sometimes muscle is taken from elsewhere in the body and used to rebuild the breast. This piece of tissue is called a ‘flap.’ With a pedicled flap, the tissue and attached blood vessels are moved together through the body to the breast area. Because the blood supply to the tissue used for reconstruction is left intact, blood vessels do not need to be reconnected once the tissue is moved, making for a potentially smoother procedure and shorter healing and recovery time. With free flaps, the tissue is cut free from its blood supply. It must be attached to new blood vessels in the breast area using microsurgery. This gives the reconstructed breast a blood supply that is crucial for its survival and surgical success.
What Are The Risks of Breast Reconstruction Surgery?
The risks associated with reconstructive surgery of the breasts always should be discussed in length with your surgeon before performing the procedure, but generally speaking, the risks may include:
- Poor healing of incisions and anaesthesia risks
- Fluid under the wound
- Flap failure
- Loss of sensitivity
- Unequal breasts
- Possibility of lymphoma
How Much Does Breast Reconstruction Cost?
Breast reconstruction surgery will often fall into the category of cosmetic surgery. However, there are cases, such as post-mastectomy, where the purpose of the procedure is more than ‘purely cosmetic’ and therefore, breast reconstruction surgery may be carried out under the NHS in some circumstances:
- UK private cost: privately, the average price for breast reconstruction surgery is around £5,278
- NHS: this treatment is available on the NHS for those who meet the criteria. However, there is a waiting list of up to 18 weeks.