Breast reconstruction is the part of my practice that I get the most fulfillment and satisfaction from. Helping women regain their physical appearance and confidence after cancer has taken something away is truly humbling. I strive to treat each patient individually based on their specific needs and desires. I also believe in a long-term commitment to breast cancer patients and continue to follow them yearly, as part of their cancer-care team. It is an honor to be included in the lives of these patients.” -Bruce A. Mast, MD, Associate Professor and Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Overview of Reconstruction: Q&A
What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction includes surgical procedures that are performed to restore the breast’s natural appearance, shape and size following a mastectomy (surgical removal the breast). Breast reconstruction also can be performed for correction of changes due to partial removal of the breast (lumpectomy).
Why choose breast reconstruction?
The decision to undergo breast reconstruction varies individually. Many women choose to have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy to restore breast shape, to attain symmetry in bras and clothing, and to enhance self-esteem and self-image following breast cancer. Woman who have had breast reconstruction months to years after the mastectomy often say that the reconstruction of the breast removes the daily reminder of having had breast cancer.
When is breast reconstruction performed?
Breast reconstruction may take place immediately following a mastectomy or may be delayed. Advantages of immediate breast reconstruction include: fewer number of operations, possibly increased cosmetic results, and less risk of emotional difficulty. Delayed breast reconstruction may be completed anytime following a mastectomy and is the appropriate option for most women requiring radiation therapy, as well as for women unsure about reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy. There are many personal and health related factors that also contribute to the time the reconstruction takes place. These will be discussed in detail with your UF surgeon during your consultation.
How many operations will be needed to obtain desired results?
The number of operations needed for breast reconstruction varies for each individual and may range on average from one to three procedures, which are spread over the course of several months. Typically the first operation forms the breast. This is the biggest operation and usually has an overnight stay in the hospital of one to four days, depending on the type of reconstruction done. Another operation is generally needed for refinement of the breast shape, as well as nipple reconstruction. This is a relatively minor operation and is performed as same day, outpatient surgery. A third procedure is completed for nipple tattooing. This is an office procedure similar to a cosmetic tattoo. UF surgeons are now doing single stage reconstruction immediately following mastectomies in which only one operation is needed. This is available to select individuals dependent on their individual circumstances.
Is it an option to have surgery on the unaffected breast?
There are a variety of surgical procedures available for the unaffected breast to obtain symmetry. This procedure may be completed during the reconstruction process. These procedures include: breast augmentation, breast lift, and breast reduction. Your surgeon will discuss the procedure that is the best option for you during your consultation.
What does insurance cover?
All medical insurance policies, including Medicare, must cover reconstruction of the breast after mastectomy and the procedure performed on the other breast for symmetry. This is a federal law. Therefore, insurance covers all procedures related to the breast reconstruction process.
If you’re interested in learning more or in taking the next step, contact Shands at UF today to discuss your individual situation and goals.
Tips to prepare for breast reconstruction
It is appropriate to begin to explore reconstruction options as soon as you are diagnosed with breast cancer and it is equally important to determine why reconstruction is an important option for you and what your goal of reconstruction might be. When diagnosed with breast cancer, it is every woman’s right to know about reconstruction. A consult with a plastic surgeon prior to any treatment is certainly appropriate.
Ask us about our breast cancer reconstruction support network and we will put you in contact with a patient who has undergone breast reconstruction by Dr. Mast.
Your consultation with a UF surgeon
We recommend you arrange for a family member or friend to accompany you to your consultation visit to provide support.
During your consultation, your surgeon will spend time discussing reconstruction as well as procedure options that he recommends for you based on: your personal desires and needs, physical examination and your health history.
They will spend time reviewing photographs with you of patients who have undergone a similar procedure as the one proposed for you. He will also discuss your recovery time and what to expect following the surgery.
You also will be given an opportunity to discuss your insurance coverage and scheduling options with our patient care coordinator following your consultation.
Reconstruction procedures performed by UF surgeons
There are several types of reconstruction procedures. Breast tissue expanders allow the skin and underlying tissue to gradually stretch in size to allow for an implant to be placed as a secondary procedure. Silicone or saline implants may be used for breast reconstruction. Tissue flaps (a portion of your own skin and muscle) are often used for breast reconstruction to actually replace tissue that was removed with the mastectomy. Tissue flaps are sometimes used with breast tissue expanders or implants; each of these types of implants will be reviewed in detail during your consultation.
Latissimus Dorsi Flap
The latissimus dorsi muscle is the muscle that runs from the back of the armpit and across the back. Utilizing this muscle for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy is a preferred reconstructive technique by Dr. Mast. This type of reconstruction can be used for immediate or delayed breast reconstruction and has excellent outcomes, even following radiation therapy. This procedure is considered less complicated than several other flap procedures because the muscle and skin remain attached to their natural blood supply. The latissimus dorsi flap is often used with a breast implant which provides size or projection that is individualized for each patient. This procedure takes about two hours in the operating room and most patients go home from the hospital within 48 hours. Patients should expect three to four weeks of recovery time to return to normal activities.
Transverse Rectus Abdominis Muscle Flap (TRAM Flap)
The TRAM flap is a type of flap that uses a portion of the abdominal tissue to create the breast mound. This type of flap provides a generous amount of tissue in a properly selected patient. Therefore, it does not require an implant. However, this procedure is not recommended for patients with a history of previous abdominal surgery or for patients with little excess abdominal tissue. Also, patients who are very overweight or who have other complicating medical problems may not be well suited for the TRAM operation. This procedure typically takes between three to four hours in the operating room and most patients go home from the hospital in three to four days. Patients should expect four weeks of recovery time to return to normal activities.
Nipple and Areola Reconstruction
Nipple and areola reconstruction is completed during the final stage of reconstruction and is typically preformed three to four months after the breast mound is created and the breast has healed. The nipple is shaped from the tissue that is present at the reconstructed breast. No skin grafting is needed. UF surgeons are able to reconstruct the nipple and areola to a natural size, shape, and projection. This procedure is performed in an outpatient setting and requires very minimal recovery time. Following this procedure, nipple tattooing may be done to provide a natural color to the nipple and areola; this is completed in the office after the reconstructed nipple and areola has healed.
Deep Inferior Epigastric Artery Perforator Flap (DIEP Flap)
This is a form of breast reconstruction in which the skin and fat from the lower tummy is completely removed and then reconnected to the chest. Using microsurgery, blood vessels that feed the skin and fat are sewn to blood vessels in the chest so that the tissue may live. This is a very elegant operation and can create wonderful breast reconstructions without the use of implants.
If you’re ready to learn more or see if this procedure is right for you, contact the University of Florida today.