Choosing the Timing of Your Own Breast Reconstruction

Ever since it was co-founded by breast reconstruction pioneer Dr. Carl Hartrampf in 1968, Atlanta Plastic Surgery, P.C. has been recognized throughout the medical community as the Southeast’s premier center for reconstructive breast surgery, and during that time our board-certified plastic surgeons have helped thousands of women to regain a sense of normalcy after treatment for breast cancer.  Women who are faced with undergoing a mastectomy can sometimes be overwhelmed with all of the decisions that need to be made, but we have also found that some find it empowering to be able to control certain aspects of their own treatment and recovery.  Take, for example, the timing of a breast reconstruction.  Many women are not aware that breast reconstruction can be done at different times, depending on the specific needs of the patient and the type of breast cancer involved.

Choosing the Timing of Your Own Breast ReconstructionImmediate Breast Reconstruction

It is possible to perform breast reconstruction surgery at the same time a mastectomy is performed, and this approach has several advantages.  Because nearly all of the work is completed during a single operation, the patient wakes up with the breast (or breasts) already rebuilt, significantly reducing the overall time that needs to be spent in recovery and providing a psychological boost.  However, immediate reconstruction may not always be possible, particularly in cases where the patient requires additional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and this approach does require a great deal of coordination between the breast cancer surgery and plastic surgery teams.

Delayed Breast Reconstruction

Targeted radiation or chemotherapy may, in some cases, cause changes in the color, texture, or appearance of the breast, particularly if an artificial saline or silicone breast implant has been used in the reconstruction.  For this reason, some physicians advise that patients wait six to twelve months after their mastectomy or lumpectomy before undergoing breast reconstruction surgery.  Moreover, the patient can opt to wait even longer, and there is no reason that patients who have chosen to forgo breast reconstruction completely cannot change their mind and have the procedure performed months or even years later.

Staged Breast Reconstruction

A staged or delayed-immediate reconstruction is a combination approach where some aspects of the surgery are performed during the initial mastectomy while others are delayed.  Typically this means that a tissue expander is inserted after the breast has been removed.  This balloon-type device has a port that allows the surgeon to add or remove liquid (a salt water solution) over time so that the size and shape of the breast pocket and surrounding skin can be preserved.  After chemotherapy or radiation treatments are completed and the tissues have recovered, the tissue expander can then be removed and replaced with either an artificial breast implant or a natural tissue flap for the breast taken from elsewhere in the patient’s body.

The timing of a woman’s breast reconstruction is one of the most discussed topics in reconstruction research, and ultimately the appropriate choice depends on a wide variety of factors.  Every woman is different and it is important that your entire team of doctors — breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, and other caregivers — meet as a group and discuss with you your unique situation.  Only then can you make an informed choice about which option is right for you.  If you have any additional questions about your breast reconstruction options, please contact Atlanta Plastic Surgery, P.C. to schedule a full consultation.  Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for the latest plastic surgery news.