Types of Breast Reconstruction
There are two main types of reconstructive surgery: those using synthetic materials (implants) and those using your own tissues (flaps). There are also variations within these types.
The type of reconstruction that suits you best depends on your preferences, the effect you desire, and the extent of your breast cancer surgery.
There are two kinds of implants, saline and silicone. Saline implants are filled with sterile salt water that closely matches the salt content in our bodies. The silicone implant is a silicone sack filled with silicone gel.
The procedure for silicone and saline implants is similar. The implant is positioned behind the pectoralis muscle, the main muscle in the chest wall. Then the skin is closed over it. If you have the implant inserted at the same time you are getting a mastectomy, it will not add days to your hospital stay.
There are a variety of techniques which use your own tissue to create a new breast. These are known as flap reconstructions.
This reconstruction technique needs the harvesting of skin, muscle, and fat from another part of your body and using it to create a new breast.
Flap reconstruction is a better alternative to an implant. Since the surgeon uses your own tissue, it is easier to create a larger breast, if that’s what is needed. And also, your breast will get an even more natural droop than one created using an implant. And since it’s created from real tissue, skin, and fat, a breast made from a flap reconstruction may feel more normal to you when you touch it. But it will still have little sensation.
If you decide to have a flap reconstruction you will have two scars, one where your breast was removed and one where the tissue was extracted to create the flap.
Pedicle Flap (Attached flap) VS Free Flaps
Pedicle flaps remain attached to their original blood supply whereas free flaps are completely detached from one area of the body and reconnected to tiny blood vessels in another area. The surgeon uses a microscope to visualize vessels from the harvested flap and attach them to vessels in the breast area, a technique known as microsurgery.
The DIEP (Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator) flap makes use of the skin and fat from your lower abdomen to reconstruct your breast. To be able to effectively transfer ample amounts of fat and skin to create your new breasts, the tissues (often called a “flap”) ought to contain an artery that brings blood, oxygen and nutrients to the flap including a vein that transports away the deoxygenated blood.
The DIEP flap will use blood vessels named Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator artery and vein. These vessels travel in the rectus muscles, which are the vertical muscles in your abdomen that create the “six-pack”.
Our surgeons use the latest techniques to carefully dissect the blood vessels free from the muscles. This allows your surgeon to harvest only the skin, fat and blood vessels leaving the rectus muscle in its place in the abdomen. This advanced reconstruction is usually called a “perforator flap”, since it merely takes the blood vessels and leaves the muscle in place.
The flap is then transferred to the chest where your surgeon will form it into your new breast. Your surgeon will then reconnect the blood vessels in the flap to vessels in the chest using a microscope.
The spot in your abdomen in which the flap was taken is then closed in a way similar to a “Tummy tuck” (abdominoplasy).
The DIEP flap can provide you with a natural, soft, reconstructed breast with the extra benefit of flattening the abdomen. Because your new breasts are entirely made of your own tissues, they will age with your body through time.
TRAM (Transverse Rectus Abdominis Myocutaneous) flap reconstruction surgery is no longer a preferred technique because of the risk of hernia or abdominal bulge and the restriction of lifting anything heavy (20 lbs.) after surgery.
In TRAM flap surgery, the flap stays attached to its original site, preserving its blood supply. The flap is tunneled under the skin to the chest, making a pocket for an implant or sometimes creating the breast mound itself.
Please refer to the table below showing potential advantages and disadvantages of the different reconstruction techniques.
The Latissimus Dorsi Myocutaneous (Lat) flap makes use of skin, fat and the Latissimus muscle from your back to reconstruct your breast. The flap is rotated from your back to the breast area. Generally this is used in combination with a tissue expander or implant in order to develop sufficient volume for the reconstruction.
This reconstruction technique is a good alternative if you do not have lower abdominal tissue available or if microsurgery is not your preference.
Take the first step and contact us through our no-cost virtual consultation. During this process, we will recommend options that will work best for you. Every client is different, so our virtual consultants and surgeons tailor the procedure to match each person’s needs.