When you’re facing a mastectomy, you have a lot to consider. Since the most common reasons for mastectomy are existing or predicted breast cancer, your health must always come first.
Unfortunately, mastectomy is often a necessary part of treatment, resulting in a permanent change to your body.
But there’s also the emotional aspect. In the past, women with one or both breasts removed (or a portion of the breast) might face a lifetime of feeling unlike themselves.
Luckily, this has changed with today’s advancements in breast reconstruction. Now, women have more options than ever to help them restore a feeling of wholeness.
An expertly performed breast reconstruction can result in a body that matches your renewed physical health and how you feel about yourself. But which technique should you choose?
More women today are opting for implant-based breast reconstruction surgery. If you think this technique may be appropriate, you still likely have questions: What exactly is implant-based breast reconstruction surgery? Is it for you? And what will your recovery be like?
We address all this in the Q&A below.
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What Is Implant-Based Breast Reconstruction?
Implant-based breast reconstruction recreates the breast mound using implants. The implants can be placed either during your mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or at some point afterward (delayed reconstruction).
While immediate reconstruction is often preferred (for aesthetic and emotional reasons), you may need to wait for your implants.
This often depends on the other aspects of your cancer treatment, such as radiation and chemotherapy.
If you are considering delayed reconstruction with implants, your skin tissue must be expanded first. (More on that below.) This may also be the case for immediate reconstruction.
What Are the Benefits of Implant-Based Breast Reconstruction?
Different women choose different techniques for their breast reconstruction. Women choose implant-based breast reconstruction because it can deliver:
- A more youthful-looking, natural result
- A comparatively easy breast reconstruction recovery (as opposed to tissue-based breast reconstruction)
- A more symmetrical result (especially if your mastectomy is bilateral)
Are You a Good Candidate for Implant-Based Breast Reconstruction?
You may be a candidate for this technique if:
- You have a bilateral mastectomy (although it can also be performed on one breast)
- You have a healthy skin envelope (some forms of radiation can damage the skin)
- You have smaller breasts
What if You’re Not a Candidate?
Other options include autologous or “flap” reconstruction. This method uses skin, at, and sometimes muscle from another body part to reconstruct a breast shape.
Ask your doctor whether you’re a candidate for implant-based breast reconstruction and, if not, what your other options are.
Will You Need Expanders for Your Procedure?
If there isn’t enough skin to place the silicone implant underneath, you will need a series of skin expanders. This is common following mastectomy since some skin is also removed.
Skin expanders are often placed at the time of the initial surgery. About three to four weeks later, you will return to your doctor’s office for your first tissue expansion.
Think of tissue expanders like a balloon. They are gradually inflated more over time.
You will then undergo expansions every two weeks until the desired amount of skin is achieved for your implants.
How Is the Skin Expanded?
To increase the size of the expander, a slender needle is inserted through the skin into a magnetized port. Saline or carbon dioxide is injected through the needle into the expander.
The expander process takes place over a series of procedures so you are as comfortable as possible while the skin grows.
What Is Recovery Like After Implant-Based Breast Reconstruction?
Your recovery will be similar to recovery from other breast implant procedures.
If the implants are placed during your mastectomy, you should expect to feel more like yourself within six to eight weeks.
If you have a tissue expander procedure, you should feel healed from the surgery at approximately the same time.
Still, you will need a second surgery after the skin is expanded adequately.
Does the Result Look and Feel Natural?
Most patients love the results of their implant-based breast reconstruction. Today’s methods mean you can achieve a natural look and feel.
It’s essential to choose your plastic surgeon carefully so that you get the best possible result. (See below.)
How Can You Find the Right Plastic Surgeon?
Look for a doctor who:
- Specializes in breast reconstruction
- Is willing to tell you his or her education and credentials
- Is board-certified with the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS)
- Is compassionate, caring, and listens to your concerns
Finding a plastic surgeon who makes you feel comfortable would be best. No matter the plastic surgeon’s credentials, your emotional comfort is vital to your recovery.
How Much Will Breast Reconstruction Cost?
There isn’t just one type of implant-based reconstruction. So your cost will be different from the next patient’s.
Fortunately, the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) requires breast reconstruction to be covered by insurance.
Ask your plastic surgeon the total cost, including the surgery, anesthesia, post-surgical garments, and follow-up appointments.
Your recovery will depend partly on whether you’ve felt relaxed asking questions and calling the office. Be sure to have a sit-down consultation in advance and ask any questions.
The more you know about the procedure in advance, the better prepared you’ll be — and the more likely you will have an outcome you’ll love.