A new breast shape can be made using a breast implant or tissue from another part of the body. The surgeon aims to match the reconstructed breast to your other breast as much as possible. You usually need further surgery to the reconstructed breast or other breast to improve the final appearance.
If you are having risk-reducing breast surgery you will have both breasts removed (bilateral mastectomy). This is why we use breast (s) in this content.
Breast reconstruction may be done:
- at the same time as a mastectomy (called immediate reconstruction)
- as a second operation months or sometimes years later (called delayed reconstruction).
Breast reconstruction may not be suitable for some women. This is because some medical conditions might increase the risk of complications during and after surgery. Your surgeon or nurse can tell you more about this.
Reconstruction after breast-conserving surgery
Women who have part of their breast removed (breast-conserving surgery) do not usually need breast reconstruction.
But if you have a large amount of tissue removed after breast-conserving surgery you may be offered partial breast reconstruction to improve the appearance of the breast.
Decisions about breast reconstruction
Before you make a decision about having breast reconstruction you will talk to your surgeon and breast care nurse. They will advise you on the types of reconstruction that are most suitable for you. It often helps to have a list of questions to ask.
Both your breast surgeon and your reconstructive surgeon will be sensitive to your thoughts and feelings about breast reconstruction. So do not be afraid to ask about anything you are concerned about.
Smoking and breast reconstruction
If you smoke, your surgeon will talk to you about the benefits of giving up smoking before surgery.
If you smoke, you are much more likely to develop problems during breast reconstruction. Smoking damages blood vessels. People who smoke are more likely to have problems with wound healing. They are also much more likely to have complications with breast reconstruction operations.
Even if you only stop smoking for a few weeks, this will reduce the risk of complications. So if you smoke, try to stop before surgery and do not smoke during the recovery period. Your hospital and GP will give you help and support to stop smoking.
There are different types of breast reconstruction. The new breast shape (s) can be made using a breast implant, or tissue taken from another part of your body. Some women may have a combination of both.
- Reconstruction using a breast implant - A breast implant can be put under or sometimes in front of the chest muscle to make a new breast shape.
- Reconstruction using your own tissue - Reconstruction using your own tissue (flap reconstruction) can give a more natural shape and feel to the reconstructed breast. Most flap reconstructions use tissue from the tummy (abdomen). But tissue from the back, buttocks or thighs can also be used.
- Reconstruction using implants and your own tissue - The surgeon makes a breast shape using implants and tissue taken from another part of your body.
Your surgeon will advise you on the type of reconstruction that is most suitable for you. It will depend on:
- your preference
- your general health
- your body build and the shape and size of your breasts
- whether you have had or are going to have radiotherapy to your chest
- how much of your breast tissue has already been removed
- how healthy the tissue and skin are on your breast and on other areas of your body that may be used (donor sites).
After your operation
Your breast care nurse will give you advice and support on what to expect after breast reconstruction.
Breast reconstruction surgery has a risk of complications. Most complications are mild and can be treated. But some women have more serious or long-term problems. Smoking, being overweight or having diabetes can increase this risk.
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 and others may happen later.
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 breast(s) for any abnormalities or changes. Your doctor will also regularly examine your breasts after your reconstruction.
We have more information about recovering at home after breast reconstruction.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.
Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.
Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.
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, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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