Mastectomy with Implants
Breast Reconstruction with Breast Implants
Your surgeon will decide whether your health and medical condition makes you an appropriate candidate for breast implant reconstruction. Women with larger breasts may require reconstruction with a combination of a tissue flap and an implant. Your surgeon may recommend breast implantation of the opposite, uninvolved breast in order to make them more alike (maximize symmetry) or he/she may suggest breast reduction (reduction mammoplasty) or a breast lift (mastopexy) to improve symmetry. Mastopexy involves removing a strip of skin from under the breast or around the nipple and using it to lift and tighten the skin over the breast. Reduction mammoplasty involves removal of breast tissue and skin. If it is important to you not to alter the unaffected breast, you should discuss this with your surgeon, as it may affect the breast reconstruction methods considered for your case.
Timing of Breast Implant Reconstruction
The following description applies to reconstruction following mastectomy, but similar considerations apply to reconstruction following breast trauma or for reconstruction for congenital defects. The breast reconstruction process may begin at the time of your mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or weeks to years afterwards (delayed reconstruction). Immediate reconstruction may involve placement of a breast implant, but typically involves placement of a tissue expander, which will eventually be replaced with a breast implant. It is important to know that any type of surgical breast reconstruction may take several steps to complete.
Two potential advantages to immediate reconstruction are that your breast reconstruction starts at the time of your mastectomy and that there may be cost savings in combining the mastectomy procedure with the first stage of the reconstruction. However, there may be a higher risk of complications such as deflation with immediate reconstruction, and your initial operative time and recuperative time may be longer.
A potential advantage to delayed reconstruction is that you can delay your reconstruction decision and surgery until other treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, are completed. Delayed reconstruction may be advisable if your surgeon anticipates healing problems with your mastectomy, or if you just need more time to consider your options. There are medical, financial, and emotional considerations to choosing immediate versus delayed reconstruction. You should discuss with your surgeon, plastic surgeon, and oncologist, the pros and cons with the options available in your individual case.
Surgical Considerations to Discuss
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the following options with your surgeon and your oncologist:
- One-stage immediate reconstruction with a breast implant (implant only).
- Two-stage immediate reconstruction with a tissue expander followed by delayed reconstruction several months later with a breast implant.
- Two-stage delayed reconstruction with a tissue expander followed several months later by replacement with a breast implant.
One-Stage Immediate Breast Implant Reconstruction
Immediate one-stage breast reconstruction may be done at the time of your mastectomy. After the general surgeon removes your breast tissue, the plastic surgeon will then insert a breast implant that completes the one-stage reconstruction.
Two-Stage (Immediate or Delayed) Breast Implant Reconstruction
Breast reconstruction usually occurs as a two-stage procedure, starting with the placement of a breast tissue expander, which is replaced several months later with a breast implant. The tissue expander placement may be done immediately, at the time of your mastectomy, or be delayed until months or years later.
During a mastectomy, the general surgeon often removes skin as well as breast tissue, leaving the chest tissues flat and tight. To create a breast shaped space for the breast implant, a tissue expander is placed under the remaining chest tissues.
The tissue expander is a balloon-like device made from elastic silicone rubber. It is inserted unfilled, and over time, sterile saline fluid is added by inserting a small needle through the skin to the filling port of the device. As the tissue expander fills, the tissues over the expander begin to stretch, similar to the gradual expansion of a woman’s abdomen during pregnancy. The tissue expander creates a new breast shaped pocket for a breast implant.
Tissue expander placement usually occurs under general anesthesia in an operating room. Operative time is generally one to two hours. The procedure may require a brief hospital stay or may be done on an outpatient basis. Typically, you can resume normal daily activity after two to three weeks.
Because the chest skin is usually numb from the mastectomy surgery, it is possible that you may not experience pain from the placement of the tissue expander. However, you may experience feelings of pressure or discomfort after each filling of the expander, which subsides as the tissue expands. Tissue expansion typically lasts four to six months.
Mastectomy Reconstruction with Implants
« Previous Section: Reconstruction Options Next Section: Mastectomy without Implants »
After the tissue expander is removed, the breast implant is placed in the pocket. The surgery to replace the tissue expander with a breast implant (implant exchange) is usually done under general anesthesia in an operating room. It may require a brief hospital stay or be done on an outpatient basis. See our Breast Implant Information page for more information regarding breast implants.
View Mastectomy Reconstruction Before and After Photos