Breast reconstruction is achieved through several plastic surgery techniques that attempt to restore a breast to near normal shape, appearance and size following mastectomy.

Breast Reconstruction

Dr. Anigian considers breast reconstruction procedures to be among the most rewarding work in his practice. Dr. Anigian applies the same careful, creative approach used during his cosmetic procedures in his work with breast cancer patients. Using microsurgical techniques honed over decades, Dr. Anigian aims to return the sense of wellness, wholeness, and beauty that breast cancer often threatens. 

He understands that this is a difficult process and will help guide you through this period so often accompanied by uncertainty, fear, and confusion. Dr. Anigian and his staff are motivated and experienced in providing guidance, support and confidence as they aim to help you through the process as quickly and smoothly as possible. 

Dr. Anigian employs a team approach working closely with his breast surgeon colleagues in planning the care and optimal outcome for each patient. Dr. Anigian uses all modes of reconstruction, including implant based and tissue based reconstructive options, each of which is individually selected based on patient needs and preferences. For instance, Dr. Anigian has performed hundreds of DIEP flap reconstructions, a microsurgical approach utilizing excess and unwanted tissue from the lower abdomen to restore form and softness to the breast while sparing the muscle function of the tummy. The DIEP flap can result in the most natural appearing reconstruction achievable. 

New medical techniques and devices have made it possible for surgeons to create a breast that can come close in form and appearance to matching a natural breast. Frequently, reconstruction is possible immediately following breast removal (mastectomy), so the patient wakes up with a breast mound already in place, having been spared the experience of seeing herself with no breast at all.

But bear in mind, post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is not a simple procedure. There are often many options to consider as you and Dr. Anigian explore what's best for you.

This information will give you a basic understanding of the procedure -- when it's appropriate, how it's done, and what results you can expect. It can't answer all of your questions, since a lot depends on your individual circumstances. Please be sure to ask Dr. Anigian if there is anything you don't understand about the procedure.


The Best Candidates for Breast Reconstruction

Most mastectomy patients are medically appropriate for reconstruction, many at the same time that the breast is removed. The best candidates, however, are women whose cancer appears to have been eliminated by mastectomy.

Still, there are legitimate reasons to wait. Many women aren't comfortable weighing all the options while they're struggling to cope with a diagnosis of cancer. Others simply don't want to have any more surgery than is absolutely necessary. Some patients may be advised by their surgeons to wait, particularly if the breast is being rebuilt in a more complicated procedure using flaps of skin and underlying tissue. Women with other health conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking, may also be advised to wait.

In any case, being informed of your reconstruction options before surgery can help you prepare for a mastectomy with a more positive outlook for the future.


All Surgery Carries Some Uncertainty and Risk

Virtually any woman who must lose her breast to cancer can have it rebuilt through reconstructive surgery. But there are risks associated with any surgery and specific complications associated with this procedure.

In general, the usual problems of surgery, such as bleeding, fluid collection, excessive scar tissue, or difficulties with anesthesia, can occur although they're relatively uncommon. And, as with any surgery, smokers should be advised that nicotine can delay healing, resulting in conspicuous scars and prolonged recovery. Occasionally, these complications are severe enough to require a second operation.

If an implant is used, there is a remote possibility that an infection will develop, usually within the first two weeks following surgery. In some of these cases, the implant may need to be removed for several months until the infection clears. A new implant can later be inserted.

The most common problem, capsular contracture, occurs if the scar or capsule around the implant begins to tighten. This squeezing of the soft implant can cause the breast to feel hard. Capsular contracture can be treated in several ways, and sometimes requires either removal or scoring of the scar tissue, or perhaps removal or replacement of the implant.

Reconstruction has no known effect on the recurrence of disease in the breast, nor does it generally interfere with chemotherapy or radiation treatment, should cancer recur. Your surgeon may recommend continuation of periodic mammograms on both the reconstructed and the remaining normal breast. If your reconstruction involves an implant, be sure to go to a radiology center where technicians are experienced in the special techniques required to get a reliable x-ray of a breast reconstructed with an implant.

Women who postpone reconstruction may go through a period of emotional readjustment. Just as it took time to get used to the loss of a breast, a woman may feel anxious and confused as she begins to think of the reconstructed breast as her own.


Planning Your Surgery

You can begin talking about reconstruction as soon as you're diagnosed with cancer. Ideally, you'll want your breast surgeon and Dr. Anigian to work together to develop a strategy that will put you in the best possible condition for reconstruction.

After evaluating your health, Dr. Anigian will explain which reconstructive options are most appropriate for your age, health, anatomy, tissues, and goals. Be sure to discuss your expectations frankly with Dr. Anigian. He should be equally frank with you, describing your options and the risks and limitations of each. 

In most cases, health insurance policies will cover most or all of the cost of post-mastectomy reconstruction. Check your policy to make sure you're covered and to see if there are any limitations on what types of reconstruction are covered.


Preparing For Your Surgery

Your oncologist and Dr. Anigian will give you specific instructions on how to prepare for surgery, including guidelines on eating and drinking, smoking, and taking or avoiding certain vitamins and medications.


Types of Implants

If Dr. Anigian recommends the use of an implant, you'll want to discuss the appropriate implant type, shape and size to be used. A breast implant is a silicone shell filled with either silicone gel or a salt-water solution known as saline.

The Surgery

While there are many options available in post-mastectomy reconstruction, you and your surgeon should discuss the one that's best for you.

Tissue expansion - The most common technique combines tissue expansion and subsequent insertion of an implant.

Following mastectomy, your surgeon will insert a balloon expander beneath your skin and chest muscle. Through a tiny valve mechanism buried beneath the skin, he or she will periodically inject a salt-water solution to gradually fill the expander over several weeks or months. After the skin over the breast area has stretched enough, the expander may be removed in a second operation and a more permanent implant will be inserted. Some expanders are designed to be left in place as the final implant. The nipple and the dark skin surrounding it, called the areola, are reconstructed in a subsequent procedure.

Some patients do not require preliminary tissue expansion before receiving an implant. For these women, the surgeon will proceed with inserting an implant as the first step.

Some patients do not require preliminary tissue expansion before receiving an implant. For these women, the surgeon will proceed with inserting an implant as the first step.

Flap reconstruction - An alternative approach to implant reconstruction involves creation of a skin flap using tissue taken from other parts of the body, such as the back, abdomen, or buttocks.

In one type of flap surgery, the tissue remains attached to its original site, retaining its blood supply. The flap, consisting of the skin, fat, and muscle with its blood supply, are tunneled beneath the skin to the chest, creating a pocket for an implant or, in some cases, creating the breast mound itself, without need for an implant.

Another flap technique, known as DIEP, uses tissue that is surgically removed from the abdomen and then transplanted to the chest by reconnecting the blood vessels to new ones in that region. This type of surgery is more complex than implant based reconstruction but has the advantage of requiring limited future maintenance. Dr. Anigian has performed this particular procedure for hundreds of women. 

Follow-up procedures - Most breast reconstruction involves a series of outpatient procedures that occur over time to restore the nipple and enhance the naturalness of the breast reconstruction. 

Getting Back to Normal

Following your surgery, you should expect to remain in the hospital for two to four days and return to work in two to six weeks. It may take you up to six weeks to recover from a combined mastectomy and reconstruction or from a flap reconstruction alone. If implants are used without flaps and reconstruction is done apart from the mastectomy, your recovery time may be less.

Reconstruction cannot restore normal sensation to your breast, but in time, some feeling may return. Most scars will fade substantially over time, though it may take as long as one to two years, but they'll never disappear entirely. The better the quality of your overall reconstruction, the less distracting you'll find those scars.

Follow Dr. Anigian’s advice on when to begin stretching exercises and normal activities. As a general rule, you'll want to refrain from any overhead lifting, strenuous sports, and sexual activity for three to six weeks following reconstruction.


Your New Look

Chances are your reconstructed breast may feel firmer and look rounder or flatter than your natural breast. It may not have the same contour as your breast before mastectomy, nor will it exactly match your opposite breast. But these differences will be apparent only to you. For most mastectomy patients, breast reconstruction dramatically improves their appearance and quality of life following surgery.