Breast Reconstruction – New Advances for Breast Cancer Survivors

Women who have breast cancer and have had a mastectomy know how difficult it is to look in the mirror and see themselves in a different light. Even after the brutal rounds of chemotherapy and its associated side effects like hair loss, severe nausea and weight loss, it seems one really, truly can’t anticipate for the loss of a breast – let alone two. Luckily, in addition to the current procedures available for breast reconstruction, scientists have currently made major advances in a new procedure that reattaches blood vessels and uses the patient’s own skin.

This procedure is presently only offered as a last resort for patients who are not able to receive traditional breast reconstruction, or who want to use autologous tissue (their own body’s skin tissue). The procedure is done by removing a series of tissue flaps from another part of the patient’s body, which are called perforator flaps, and these flaps are then attached to the mastectomy site. One or two blood vessels are then fastened along the inner flap, and this is how the skin stays alive. For the technique, no muscle tissue is needed because only skin and fat is required. If the surgeon finds that the patient has a longer blood vessel than average, they could decide to line the entire flap instead of just using various smaller ones.
Because of its dependence on a patient’s own skin, the best candidates for this surgery are those who have medium to large size breasts, have excess fat on their buttocks or stomach, prefer to use their own skin and might benefit from weight loss because of the stomach area being tightened by skin removal.
Other advantages to having this surgery are that the patient will feel better both emotionally and psychologically, their self-esteem will be better and they will benefit from a more comfortable body image, allowing them to fit in without feeling “different.”   

On the other hand, this technique can be lengthier than other breast reconstruction surgeries; a typical surgery can take anywhere from four to six hours per breast, and chances are good that two surgeons will be working on you. What this means is that for quite a long period of time you must be kept under anesthesia. After the surgery, follow-up visits also take an average of four weeks longer, and the patient has a increased risk of getting an infection if proper care is not received.   

The common procedures of breast reconstruction involve the use of breast implants. With breast implants, your choices are saline or silicone injections almost weekly to gradually increase the size and breast prostheses. Because of the length and complexity of the blood vessel surgery, few breast cancer clinics offer this option. It is up to you and your doctor to figure out which method that will work the best, and if any of these techniques will provide a benefit which outweighs the risk: allowing you to see yourself in the mirror without feeling incomplete or disfigured, and get you on track to resuming your life after breast cancer. 

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