For many years, women who had undergone either a partial or full mastectomy did not have many good options for breast reconstruction. Even today, some methods often involve grafts of skin, tissue, and muscle taken from other areas of the body. However, there has been a recent trend in favor of a less complicated technique to perform breast reconstruction - essentially using breast implants as the base for reconstruction. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, more women are now electing to undergo breast reconstruction using implants.

How Is the Breast Reconstructed with Implants?

A reconstruction procedure using silicone or saline breast implants follows many of the same basic techniques as an elective breast augmentation procedure. Once the implant is placed, the remaining chest tissue and skin will be draped over it to reconstruct the breast lost to a full or partial mastectomy procedure.

In many cases, the nipple and areola (the area of darkened skin around the nipple) structures can be spared, leaving the patient with sensation and the ability to breast feed if she chooses to have children after cancer treatment. If these structures cannot be spared, Dr. Paul Pin can reconstruct a nipple and areola from the remaining breast tissue.

However, breast implants following mastectomy can only be placed behind the chest muscles (subpectoral), rather than behind just the mammary glands and ducts (subglandular), as these structures may have been removed during the mastectomy procedure.

When Can Breast Reconstruction Be Performed?

Implant-based breast reconstruction can be done either at the same time as the mastectomy procedure or at a later date with the use of expanders to stretch and hold open a pocket of tissue into which the implants will be placed at the reconstruction surgery. The expanders consist of a small balloon that is attached to a tube leading out of the body. Dr. Pin will fill the balloon with saline. Over time, more saline is added via the tube to increase the size of the pocket. Patients may experience soreness or tightness in the chest area for a few days after saline is added. Although results may vary, the expanders will likely be able to be replaced with the implants anywhere from six weeks to six months after the mastectomy procedure.

Delaying the reconstructive procedure is recommended in cases where the woman expects to undergo chemotherapy following the mastectomy or if she does not have enough breast tissue available to cover the implants at the time of mastectomy. Since radiation therapy can cause breast tissue to shrink, as well as change the quality of the remaining breast skin, immediate reconstruction is preferred to prevent complications from delaying the reconstructive procedure.

Continuing research in the field of plastic surgery has greatly widened the options of breast cancer patients who wish to have their breasts reconstructed following full or partial mastectomy. As breast implant reconstruction is less invasive than graft techniques, patients have a lowered risk of complication and a greater chance of satisfactory outcomes. Dr. Pin keeps up with these advances in order to help patients regain a sense of normalcy about the appearance of their bodies after mastectomies.