Breast reconstruction is a complex surgery that typically takes place over several procedures. While the first procedure is often the most substantial, many women later opt for nipple reconstruction, or require further procedures in order to achieve a natural-looking breast. Learning what to expect after breast reconstruction surgery, can help you decide if the procedure is right for you.
The Initial Recovery Period
Reconstructive surgery is a comprehensive procedure which requires a considerable recovery time, typically about six weeks. Flap breast reconstruction usually requires more healing time because more than one area of the body must heal from surgery. During this time, strenuous physical activities as sports and intercourse are not advised. Although healing time and side effects are dependant upon the individual, some of the most common feelings that patients will experience, include:
- Moderate discomfort and pain
- Numbness at the breast area
- Numbness or partial loss of feeling at the site of tissue transfer (associated with flap reconstruction)
Your surgeon will prescribe medication for relief of mild to moderate pain. In the days and weeks following surgery, it is important to watch for signs of infection. When caught on time, infections can be cleared up by antibiotics. If too far progressed, however, it may be necessary to remove the implant in order for the infection to heal. It is also important to attend all scheduled follow-up appointments with your surgeon. This will help ensure that your recovery is on track, and allow you to plan adequately for any necessary follow-up procedures.
Depending on the specific details of your initial breast reconstruction, your doctor may recommend follow-up procedures, such as nipple reconstruction. While this is not medically necessary, many women opt for the surgery for a more aesthetically pleasing look.
Refining the Natural Breast
Women who undergo breast cancer reconstruction surgery for one breast sometimes want to have their natural breast refined as well. Receiving implants in both the reconstructed and the natural breast can lead to greater symmetry and more satisfying breast reconstruction results.
It is impossible to make a breast mound that is identical to the remaining breast. However, refining both areas can result in breasts that are more uniform in appearance and texture. Implants tend to be firmer and fuller than natural breasts; conversely, natural breasts tend to droop more than reconstructed breasts. Undergoing treatments in both areas can help address these inconsistencies. However, refining the natural breast is by no means a requirement of breast reconstruction surgery.
If breast cancer reconstruction surgery using breast implants is the technique of choice, the reconstruction process will likely include several steps. In most cases, a tissue expander will need to be used in order to stretch the area to accommodate an implant. Over the course of several weeks or months, your doctor will add fluid to the balloon-like expander to gradually increase its size, until the balloon is eventually replaced with a permanent breast implant via breast reconstruction surgery. Patients have reported some discomfort during the time that the balloon is being filled with liquid and can expect moderate pain and recovery time after they receive their permanent implants.
For some patients, a permanent balloon can be inserted, which acts as both a tissue expander and a breast implant. Your doctor will discuss which option is best for you.
There are several ways that a nipple can be reconstructed. For the most realistic results, your plastic surgeon can construct a nipple and areola from your own tissue. Or, he or she can tattoo a pigmented area onto your new breast, giving you the appearance of a nipple and areola. This is not painful because the breast mound has little to no feeling. In addition, there are removable nipples that can be applied and detached whenever you’d like. Though all breast cancer reconstructions are unique and individual expectations vary, it is important for all patients to remember that improvement, not perfection, is the goal of breast reconstruction surgery.
Many Patients Want to Know …
How Can I Ensure a Speedy Recovery?
In order to have a smooth recovery period, it is important to follow your surgeon’s instructions for post-operative care. While mild to moderate pain and discomfort is inevitable, properly caring for your body can minimize these side effects. Learn more about the recovery process.
Contact a Plastic Surgeon
Contact a plastic surgeon to find out if breast reconstruction is right for you.