Immediate breast reconstruction surgery begins at the time of your mastectomy. After your general surgeon removes your breast tissue, your plastic surgeon will begin reconstructive surgery.
There are two procedural possibilities if you elect to have immediate reconstruction with an implant: one-stage and two-stage breast reconstruction.
One-stage immediate breast reconstruction is a procedure in which your plastic surgeon places a breast implant immediately after your general surgeon removes any cancerous breast tissue. Women who have had a nipple-sparing mastectomy—wherein the nipple is not removed, leaving the majority of the breast skin—may have the possibility of one-stage reconstruction.
Two-stage immediate breast implant reconstruction involves a combination of procedures to gradually create a place in your chest tissue for the breast implant to occupy. Two-stage implant reconstruction that uses a tissue expander followed by placement of a breast implant is the most common type of implant-based reconstruction and allows for the most flexibility in shaping the breast.
In the first stage of the two-stage reconstruction process, an implant called a tissue expander is placed by your plastic surgeon after your general surgeon completes your mastectomy. This tissue expander is subsequently filled with sterile saline in an outpatient clinic setting. Your surgeon will increase the volume in the tissue expander over time. This causes the surrounding tissue to stretch and eventually re-grow the skin that was initially removed with the mastectomy, allowing a surgeon to recreate a natural breast shape. The tissue expander will be expanded periodically for approximately two to three months.
One additional option your plastic surgeon may suggest is placing a dual-function implant – a combination tissue expander and breast implant. This dual-function implant is filled with little to no saline initially. Fluid is then gradually added in a simple office procedure after your surgery—similar to the process of filling a tissue expander.
Once your desired breast size is achieved, the mechanism used to fill the implant is removed in the office. The dual function device ultimately serves as your permanent implant, avoiding any need for an additional operation to exchange the expander for the permanent implant.
Often, the amount of skin remaining in the breast area after a mastectomy determines whether reconstruction with an implant can be performed in one or two stages. For example, a complete mastectomy removes the most skin and will most likely necessitate the use of two-stage reconstruction. Your surgeon will discuss which type of implant reconstruction is best for you.
It is important to understand that any breast reconstruction surgery (with or without breast implants) may require multiple procedures. Your surgeon may also recommend a procedure that provides better symmetry or balance between your breasts. These symmetry procedures for the unaffected breast can include breast augmentation with an implant, breast reduction or a breast lift.
You may additionally desire to have nipple reconstruction. These minor, outpatient procedures help recreate your pre-mastectomy breast appearance. You should discuss your options with your plastic surgeon for best results.
The exact number of procedures and estimated recovery times will vary for every woman. Your general surgeon, plastic surgeon and oncologist should work together as a team to plan your individual reconstructive process.
As a reminder, it is important for you to know the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act, a federal law passed in 1998, ensures your right to have these types of symmetry procedures and nipple reconstruction covered by your health insurance provider.
Deciding which products to use to achieve your desired results is the next step. Immediate breast reconstruction may be performed using a tissue expander and breast implant, breast implant alone or a combination tissue expander/breast implant.
Tissue expanders are used in two-stage immediate breast reconstruction surgery to expand the skin and create a shaped pocket for the breast implant to eventually occupy. The tissue expander is removed when your breast tissues can accommodate the breast implant you have selected. Click here for more detailed information about the different types of tissue expanders.
Breast implants can be used during both one-stage and two-stage immediate breast reconstruction surgery. Mentor offers silicone implants and saline implants that adhere to the highest standards of safety on the market today. Click here for more detailed information about the different types of breast implants.
Many one-stage immediate breast reconstruction surgeries involve the placement of a single implantable product that combines the functions of a temporary tissue expander with those of a long-term saline breast implant. The volume of this implant can be adjusted post-operatively over a period of several months.