Many improvements in elective treatment options have been developed during the past decade. These treatment options can improve a woman’s appearance after a mastectomy. Some of these options are described below.
After your incision heals, you may be given a temporary, external prosthesis to give you a more normal-looking appearance and to improve the fit of your clothing. Later on, you may choose to be fitted with a permanent external prosthesis or elect to have surgical reconstruction with an internal prosthesis.
Breast reconstruction involves the surgical reconstruction of the breast mound. After partial or total removal of the breast tissue, surgical breast reconstruction can restore the form and appearance of the removed breast. New techniques can create breasts that look and feel almost natural. The technique chosen by your doctor depends on the type of mastectomy you received and the condition of the remaining breast tissue and muscle. Reconstruction can be performed at the time of the mastectomy or anytime afterwards.
If, following the mastectomy, enough overlaying skin and strong muscles are present, a surgical implant (prosthesis) may be used. A thin, flexible implant containing saline (salt water) is inserted beneath the skin and muscle, producing a breast mound.
If the overlaying skin and muscle are too tight to allow an implant to slip comfortably beneath, a temporary tissue expander can be inserted to gradually stretch the skin and muscle. The expander is periodically filled with saline, stretching the skin until enough space is available for a permanent implant. The permanent prosthesis is then inserted, or in some cases, the saline sac is left permanently in place.
If the skin cannot be stretched with a tissue expander, a flap of skin, muscle or both, can be taken from another part of the body, usually from the abdomen or the back. After initial breast reconstructive surgery, a nipple can also be reconstructed using local tissue or a skin graft.
The decision to seek reconstructive surgery is a matter of personal choice. If you are interested in learning more about this option, please discuss it with your surgeon or plastic surgeon.