What is breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction uses surgery to make a new breast shape after an operation to remove the breast (mastectomy).

The new breast shape can be made with: 

  • a breast implant
  • tissue taken from another part of your body
  • a combination of both.

You may have a breast reconstruction after a mastectomy to treat breast cancer. Surgery is the first treatment for most people diagnosed with breast cancer. For some people, a mastectomy is recommended instead of breast-conserving surgery. This is when only part of the breast is removed (wide local excision or lumpectomy).

Breast reconstruction tries to match your reconstructed breast to your other breast as closely as possible. You usually need further surgery to the reconstructed breast, or sometimes to the other breast to improve the final appearance.

You may also have breast reconstruction if you are having risk-reducing breast surgery. This is when you have surgery to remove both breasts, called a bilateral mastectomy. This is why we use breast(s) in this content.

Breast reconstruction surgery may not be suitable for everyone. This is because some medical conditions increase the risk of complications during and after surgery. Your surgeon or nurse can tell you more about this.

Reconstruction after breast-conserving surgery

People who have part of their breast removed (breast-conserving surgery) do not usually need breast reconstruction.

But if a large area of breast tissue needs to be removed, some reconstructive surgery might be offered to keep the breast shape. This can improve the appearance of your breasts or make them look more even.

Having breast reconstruction surgery

Breast reconstruction is done by a breast reconstructive surgeon or a plastic surgeon. Breast reconstructive surgeons are sometimes called oncoplastic breast surgeons. They are trained in breast cancer surgery and some types of breast reconstruction.

Decisions about breast reconstruction surgery

There are different reasons someone may choose to have breast reconstruction. It will depend on the person. You may choose to have reconstruction, so you do not need to wear a false breast. This is called a breast prosthesis or form. Or you may feel reconstruction will help your confidence and improve how you feel about your body after breast surgery.

You may not want to have additional surgery and decide you feel comfortable wearing a breast prosthesis instead. If this is what you decide, you can talk to your breast care nurse about how to get fitted with a prosthesis and bras you can wear after surgery.

We have more information on deciding about breast reconstruction.

Preparing for breast reconstruction surgery

You will have a pre-operative assessment before your operation. This will involve having some tests to check your general health and fitness.

Your treatment team will talk to you about having a healthy, balanced diet and keeping physically active in the weeks before surgery. For example, this may mean going for regular walks.

You may be given information about what to bring into hospital, such as:

  • comfortable clothes and nightwear with buttons down the front
  • a supportive bra.

Smoking and breast reconstruction

If you smoke, your surgeon will talk to you about giving up smoking before surgery.

You are more likely to develop problems after breast reconstruction surgery if you smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels and increases the chance of having problems with wound healing and recovery.

Your hospital and GP will give you help and support to stop smoking. You can also visit the NHS website for more information.

Types of breast reconstruction

There are different types of breast reconstruction. Click on the links to see more information and images about the different types of breast reconstruction surgery.

New breast shapes can be made using a breast implant, or tissue taken from another part of your body or a combination of both.

  • Reconstruction using breast implants – This is when breast implants are put under the skin to make new breast shapes.
  • Reconstruction using your own tissue (flap reconstruction) – This is when skin, fat and sometimes muscle are taken from another part of your body to make a new breast shape. Tissue can be taken from:
  • Reconstruction using breast implants and your own tissue. This is when a breast shape is made using both an implant and your own tissue taken from another part of your body (flap reconstruction). 

Your surgeon will advise you on the type of breast reconstruction surgery that is most suitable for you. It will depend on:

  • your preference
  • your general health
  • your body type and the shape and size of your breasts
  • whether you have had or are going to have radiotherapy to your chest – your treatment team will explain how this might affect the type of reconstruction and when you have it
  • how much of your breast tissue has already been removed
  • how healthy the tissue and skin are on your breasts and on other areas of your body that may be used (donor sites).

Comparing types of breast reconstruction surgery

We have more information on implant and tissue reconstructions with the benefits, limitations, and risks of each type.

You can download our guide to breast reconstruction options. Your surgeon can explain more about these.

After breast reconstruction

Your breast care nurse will give you advice and support on what to expect after breast reconstruction surgery.

Possible complications of breast reconstruction surgery

Breast reconstruction surgery has a risk of complications. Most complications are mild and can be treated. Smoking, being overweight or having diabetes can increase this risk. There are also possible long-term side effects of breast reconstruction surgery. These can last for a longer period of time. Some side effects may not go away completely.

Follow-up after breast reconstruction

Before you leave hospital, you will be given an appointment for a check-up or to plan further treatment, if you are having it.

If it is needed, the ward nurses can arrange for district nurses to visit you at home and look at any wounds and dressings.

It is important to continue checking your natural breast and reconstructed breasts for any abnormalities or changes. Your doctor will also regularly examine your breasts after your reconstruction.

You will not usually need to have mammograms of the reconstructed breast. If you have had a reconstruction to treat breast cancer, you will be offered regular mammograms of the other breast. If you have breast reconstruction after breast-conserving surgery, you will continue to have mammograms on that breast.

We have more information about what to expect after breast reconstruction surgery and recovering at home.

Improving the final look and shape

You may have other operations or procedures to complete the final look and shape of the new breast shape. Some may be done at the same time as your breast reconstruction surgery and others may happen later.

  • Nipple reconstruction

    If your nipple was removed as part of a mastectomy you may be offered nipple reconstruction, nipple tattooing or a nipple prosthesis.

  • Lipomodelling

    Your surgeon can inject fat into your breast to improve dents or unevenness in the new breast shape. This is called lipomodelling

Further surgery

You may be offered further surgery to improve the new breast shape. If you had one breast reconstructed you may have surgery to your other breast so that your breasts match in shape and size.

Your feelings after breast reconstruction surgery

You will need time to recover after breast reconstruction. It will take time to adjust to the changes. Many people who have this surgery are pleased with the result. But they may still have feelings of loss for their previous appearance and health.

If you have concerns about your body image that do not improve, talk to your breast care nurse about how you feel. Many people and organisations can help you talk about and deal with your feelings. If you are struggling to adjust emotionally, you can ask to be referred to psychologist or counsellor.

We have more information about how you may feel after breast reconstruction surgery.

Your sex life after breast reconstruction surgery

Having breast surgery may affect your sex life and the way you may think and feel about your body (your body image). Breast reconstruction creates a new breast shape but the sensations in the breasts and nipples will not be the same as before. If you have other treatment for breast cancer, this might also affect your sex life.

If you have a partner, there may be a period of adjustment for you both. If you’re not in a relationship, you may worry about what a new partner might think about your surgery. Talking to each other and sharing your feelings and fears can help you overcome most worries with time. If you have sexual difficulties, help is available.

We have more information about your sex life after having breast reconstruction.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Mike Dixon, Professor of Surgery and Consultant Breast Surgeon.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2022
Next review: 01 November 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.