Advances in the field of breast reconstruction after mastectomy now offer breast cancer patients a wider range of options than ever before. As plastic surgeons in Marin County, we work closely with a team of oncology specialists, including cancer surgeons, to offer women diagnosed with breast cancer a coordinated treatment plan that includes all of the available options.
The increased talk about breast cancer and reconstruction options that occurs every October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent opportunity for us to remind patients that they have a number of choices when it comes to surgery.
If a patient opts for breast reconstruction at our practice, we explain the choices she has early in the treatment process so there is ample time to plan for the preferred surgical technique. It’s a decision that should be carefully considered, with input from the entire medical team. One of the first reconstruction choices a patient makes is whether to reconstruct the breast immediately after the mastectomy or to delay the procedure until after cancer treatment.
The patients decide on the reconstructive technique. In general, the choice involves reconstruction using muscle and tissue from the patient’s body, or using breast implants:
- Autologous flap techniques: A patient may choose to use tissue from another part of her body to reconstruct the contour of a breast. The abdomen and upper back are the most common areas where tissue is removed. We are trained in the microsurgical techniques required to perform such operations. These “autologous flap” techniques often result in breasts that feel very natural.
- Reconstruction with an implant: Although it may be possible to have immediate reconstruction with a breast implant, many patients need a tissue expander inserted to stretch the skin enough to accommodate the implant. That means the procedure is staged, with periodic appointments to increase the size of the expander before the long-lasting implant is inserted.
We can also combine a flap technique with a breast implant, and we sometimes also include fat transfer to soften the edges of the implant. The most important thing to remember is that each procedure can be customized to meet the individual needs of the patient.