Statistically speaking, one in nine women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lives. Most will be treated surgically. There are many reconstructive options available to women who have undergone mastectomies (surgical removal of the breast). There are situations where the reconstruction can be performed at the same time as the removal, but there are also other treatment considerations, such as the need for radiation or chemotherapy, that may delay the reconstruction. Breast reconstruction can be accomplished with the patient’s own tissue, a breast implant, or a combination of the two.
Implant reconstruction typically involves the use of a tissue expander which is placed prior to the final implant and filled on multiple visits. The goal is to expand the remaining skin and muscle into an acceptable breast shape. Once the expansion has been completed, the expander is removed and the final implant is placed. Nipple reconstruction can be considered shortly afterwards. There have been recent advances that utilize skin substitutes (acellular dermis) to help create the lower portion of the implant pocket. This procedure may allow reduction or (in some cases) elimination of the tissue expansion portion of this process.
Autologous (utilization of the patient’s own tissue) breast reconstruction can be accomplished by moving skin, fat, and varying portions of muscle from the abdomen. It can also be accomplished by moving a muscle from the back with its overlying fatty tissue and skin (This method usually requires an implant as well).