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Breast reconstruction - natural tissue

Definition

After a mastectomy, some women choose to have cosmetic surgery to remake their breast. This type of surgery is called breast reconstruction. It can be performed at the same time as a mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or later (delayed reconstruction).

During breast reconstruction that uses natural tissue, the breast is reshaped using muscle, skin, or fat from another part of your body.

Alternative Names

Transverse rectus abdominus muscle flap; TRAM; Latissimus muscle flap with a breast implant; DIEP flap; DIEAP flap; Gluteal free flap; Transverse upper gracilis flap; TUG

Description

If you are having breast reconstruction at the same time as mastectomy, the surgeon may do either of the following:

  • Skin-sparing mastectomy. This means only the area around your nipple and areola is removed.
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomy. This means all of the skin, nipple, and areola are kept.

In either case, skin is left to make reconstruction easier.

If you will have breast reconstruction later, the surgeon can still do skin- or nipple-sparing mastectomy. If you are not sure about having reconstruction, the surgeon will remove the nipple and enough skin to make the chest wall as smooth and flat as possible.

Types of breast reconstruction include the following:

  • Transverse rectus abdominus myocutaneous flap (TRAM)
  • Latissimus muscle flap
  • Deep inferior epigastric artery perforator flap (DIEP or DIEAP)
  • Gluteal flap
  • Transverse upper gracilis flap (TUG)

For any of these procedures, you will have general anesthesia. This is medicine that keeps you asleep and pain-free.

For TRAM surgery:

  • The surgeon makes a cut (incision) across your lower belly, from one hip to the other. Your scar will be hidden later by most clothing and bathing suits.
  • The surgeon loosens skin, fat, and muscle in this area. This tissue is then tunneled under the skin of your abdomen up to the breast area to create your new breast. Blood vessels remain connected to the area from where the tissue is taken.
  • In another method called the free flap procedure, skin, fat, and muscle tissue are removed from your lower belly. This tissue is placed in your breast area to create your new breast. The arteries and veins are cut and reattached to blood vessels under your arm or behind your breastbone.
  • This tissue is then shaped into a new breast. The surgeon matches the size and shape of your remaining natural breast as closely as possible.
  • The incisions on your belly are closed with stitches.
  • If you would like a new nipple and areola created, you will need a second, much smaller surgery later. Or, the nipple and areola can be created with a tattoo.

For latissimus muscle flap with a breast implant:

  • The surgeon makes a cut in your upper back, on the side of your breast that was removed.
  • The surgeon loosens skin, fat, and muscle from this area. This tissue is then tunneled under your skin to the breast area to create your new breast. Blood vessels remain connected to the area from where the tissue was taken.
  • This tissue is then shaped into a new breast. The surgeon matches the size and shape of your remaining natural breast as closely as possible.
  • An implant may be placed underneath the chest wall muscles to help match the size of your other breast.
  • The incisions are closed with stitches.
  • If you would like a new nipple and areola created, you will need a second, much smaller surgery later. Or, the nipple and areola can be created with a tattoo.

For a DIEP or DIEAP flap:

  • The surgeon makes a cut across your lower belly. Skin and fat from this area is loosened. This tissue is then placed in your breast area to create your new breast. The arteries and veins are cut and then reattached to the blood vessels under your arm or behind your breastbone.
  • The tissue is then shaped into a new breast. The surgeon matches the size and shape of your remaining natural breast as closely as possible.
  • The incisions are closed with stitches.
  • If you would like a new nipple and areola created, you will need a second, much smaller surgery later. Or, the nipple and areola can be created with a tattoo.

For a gluteal flap:

  • The surgeon makes a cut in your buttocks. Skin, fat, and possibly muscle from this area are loosened. This tissue is placed in your breast area to create your new breast. The arteries and veins are cut and then reattached to the blood vessels under your arm or behind your breastbone.
  • The tissue is then shaped into a new breast. The surgeon matches the size and shape of your remaining natural breast as closely as possible.
  • The incisions are closed with stitches.
  • If you would like a new nipple and areola created, you will need a second, much smaller surgery later. Or, the nipple and areola can be created with a tattoo.

For a TUG flap:

  • The surgeon makes a cut in your thigh. Skin, fat, and muscle from this area are loosened. This tissue is placed in your breast area to create your new breast. The arteries and veins are cut and then reattached to the blood vessels under your arm or behind your breastbone.
  • The tissue is then shaped into a new breast. The surgeon matches the size and shape of your remaining natural breast as closely as possible.
  • The incisions are closed with stitches.
  • If you would like a new nipple and areola created, you will need a second, much smaller surgery later. Or, the nipple and areola can be created with a tattoo.

When breast reconstruction is done at the same time as a mastectomy, the entire surgery may last 8 to 10 hours. When it is done as a second surgery, it may take up to 12 hours.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

You and your surgeon will decide together about whether to have breast reconstruction and when. The decision depends on many different factors.

Having breast reconstruction does not make it harder to find a tumor if your breast cancer comes back.

The advantage of breast reconstruction with natural tissue is that the remade breast is softer and more natural than breast implants. The size, fullness, and shape of the new breast can be closely matched to your other breast.

But muscle flap procedures are more complicated than placing breast implants. You may need blood transfusions during the procedure. You will usually spend 2 or 3 more days in the hospital after this surgery compared to other reconstruction procedures. Also, your recovery time at home will be much longer.

Many women choose not to have breast reconstruction or implants. They may use a prosthesis (an artificial breast) in their bra that gives a natural shape. Or they may choose to use nothing at all.

Risks

Risks of anesthesia and surgery are:

  • Reactions to medicines
  • Breathing problems
  • Bleeding, blood clots, or infection

Risks of breast reconstruction with natural tissue are:

  • Loss of sensation around the nipple and areola
  • Noticeable scar
  • One breast is larger than the other (asymmetry of the breasts)
  • Loss of the flap because of problems with blood supply, requiring more surgery to save the flap or to remove it
  • Bleeding into the area where the breast used to be, sometimes requiring a second surgery to control the bleeding

Before the Procedure

Tell your surgeon if you are taking any drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.

During the week before your surgery:

  • You may be asked to stop taking medicines that make it hard for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), vitamin E, clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
  • Ask your surgeon which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.
  • If you smoke, try to stop. Smoking slow healing and increases the risk for problems. Ask your health care provider for help quitting.

On the day of your surgery:

  • Follow instructions about not eating or drinking and about showering before you go to the hospital.
  • Take your drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Arrive at the hospital on time.

After the Procedure

You will stay in the hospital for 2 to 5 days.

You may still have drains in your chest when you go home. Your surgeon will remove them later during an office visit. You may have pain around your cuts after surgery. Follow instructions about taking pain medicine.

Fluid may collect under the incision. This is called a seroma. It is fairly common. A seroma may go away on its own. If it doesn't go away, it needs to be drained by the surgeon during an office visit.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Results of this surgery are usually very good. But reconstruction will not restore normal sensation of your new breast or nipple.

Recovery is usually faster when reconstruction is done after the mastectomy wound has healed.

Having breast reconstruction surgery after breast cancer can improve your sense of well-being and quality of life.

References

Roehl KR, Wilhelmi BJ, Phillips LG. Breast reconstruction. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 375.

Said HK, Javid SH, Colohan S. Breast reconstruction following mastectomy: indications, techniques, and results. In: Cameron JL, Cameron AM, eds. Current Surgical Therapy. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014.


Review Date: 3/13/2015
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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