Breast Reconstruction: What Is It and Why Do It?

Breast Reconstruction is a highly personal decision that can have a significant impact on a woman’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Women who have undergone a mastectomy, lumpectomy, or other trauma to the breast may experience feelings of loss, grief, physical disconnection, or decreased self-esteem due to changes in their appearance. Breast Reconstruction can help to restore a sense of femininity, confidence, and wholeness, by surgically reconstructing one or both breasts to their natural shape, size, and appearance. But let’s not forget about women who want to celebrate their won battle by “going flat”. It is an important option that can provide physical and emotional benefits to women who have undergone breast cancer treatment.

What is Breast Reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction is a surgical procedure that recreates the chest wall or breast mounds after mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery. It can involve several techniques, such as implant-based reconstruction, autologous tissue reconstruction (using the patient’s own tissue), or a combination of both. “Going Flat” (a procedure called Aesthetic Flat Closure (AFC) or post-mastectomy chest wall reconstruction) is an increasingly popular option for women who do not want to have their breast mounds recreated. The specific approach is based on factors such as individual anatomy, treatment history, overall health, and personal preference.

Why You Might Want Breast Reconstruction

There are several reasons why you might consider breast reconstruction after mastectomy:

Restoring Body Symmetry: Breast reconstruction helps restore balance and symmetry to your body, allowing your clothes to fit better and improving overall contour.

Improved Psychological Well-being: Breast reconstruction can greatly impact your emotional and psychological well-being. It can help restore confidence, self-esteem, and body image after the physical and emotional challenges of mastectomy.

Restoring Sensation: Certain surgical techniques, such as autologous tissue reconstruction, may potentially restore some sensation in the reconstructed breast over time, enhancing your overall experience.

Clothing Options and Self-expression: Breast reconstruction can give you more choices in terms of clothing styles and allow you to express your personal style more freely.

Enhanced Intimacy and Relationships:  Breast reconstruction can positively impact your intimate relationships by restoring a sense of body confidence and enhancing feelings of femininity.

Avoiding the Need for External Prosthetics: For individuals who find external prosthetics uncomfortable or inconvenient, breast reconstruction provides a long-term, integrated solution that does not require additional external measures.

No More Bras or Mammograms: Aesthetic flat closure provides individuals with another solution besides implants or flaps and elimination of the need for bras or mammograms, among other lifestyle benefits.

Timing of Breast Reconstruction

Breast reconstruction can be performed during or after mastectomy. Immediate reconstruction, performed at the same time as mastectomy, has the benefit of eliminating additional surgeries and waking up with reconstructed breasts. Delayed reconstruction, performed at a later time is recommended when additional healing and recovery is necessary before proceeding with the reconstruction process. The timing of breast reconstruction is individual but the majority of patients can benefit from immediate reconstruction.

Consultation: Oncoplastic Surgeon vs Multiple Surgeons

In the past, women considering breast reconstruction had to consult with two specialists – a general or breast surgeon and a plastic surgeon. What did it mean for them? Two surgeons, multiple appointments, doubled co-pays, not to mention the time spent visiting both. This puts a tremendous burden on a patient who is already navigating through the overwhelming journey of a breast cancer diagnosis. Although a common practice abroad, the United States has a few oncoplastic surgeons who can seamlessly remove the tumor and proceed with reconstruction in one surgery, saving patients time, money, and the number of surgeries they have to undergo.

One such oncoplastic surgeon is Jean-Claude Schwartz, MD, PhD., a leading pioneer and expert in oncoplasty in the US. Unlike breast surgeons who are trained to only remove the tumor, or plastic surgeons who reconstruct various parts of the body, Dr. Schwartz specializes in breast cancer and reconstructive surgeries of he breast only, making him the true breast reconstructive expert women seek and benefit from.

Dr. Schwartz frequently publishes new breast reconstructive techniques in prestigious world plastic surgery journals educating not only fellow breast surgeons but plastic surgeons as well on latest breast-conserving and reconstructive methods.

Breast Reconstruction: Options and Benefits

Breast reconstruction is a transformative surgical procedure. There are various options available for breast reconstruction, each with its own benefits and considerations:

Implant-Based Reconstruction

Implant-based reconstruction involves the use of breast implants to recreate a breast mound. This is often achieved using silicone or saline implants. Some benefits of implant-based reconstruction include:

Simpler Surgical Procedure: Implant-based reconstruction usually involves a shorter surgery and recovery time compared to other breast mound reconstructive methods

Customizable Size and Shape: With implants, it is possible to choose and adjust the size and shape of the reconstructed breast to achieve the desired income.

Avoiding Additional Surgical Sites: Implant-based reconstruction typically requires fewer surgical sites compared to autologous tissue reconstruction, which may be preferable for some individuals.

Suitable for Thin Individuals: Implant-based reconstruction may be a suitable option for individuals with thin body types or limited donor sites for autologous tissue reconstruction.

Autologous Tissue Reconstruction

Autologous tissue reconstruction, also known as flap reconstruction, uses the patient’s own tissue from other areas of the body such as the abdomen, back, side, or buttocks, to rebuild the breast mound. Some benefits of autologous tissue reconstruction include:

Natural Look and Feel: Autologous tissue reconstruction can provide a more natural look and feel, as the reconstructed breast is made from the patient’s own tissue.

Long-Term Durability: The results of autologous tissue reconstruction can be long-lasting, as the reconstructed breast ages naturally with the body.

Potential for Simultaneous Body Contouring: Tissue taken from donor sites can provide the added benefit of body contouring in the area where it is harvested, improving overall body proportion.

Less Risk of Implant-Related Complications: Autologous tissue reconstruction eliminates the need for breast implants, reducing the risks associated with implants, such as implant rupture or capsular contracture.

Combined Approach

In some cases, a combined approach may be suitable for breast reconstruction This involves a combination of implant-based and autologous tissue reconstruction techniques. Benefits of the combined approach may include:

Enhanced Aesthetics: Combining implants and autologous tissue can provide enhanced aesthetics, such as improved breast shape and volume.

Flexibility in  Reconstruction: A combined approach allows for more flexibility in reconstruction, with the ability to utilize both implants and autologous tissue to achieve desired outcomes.

Improved Symmetry: The combination of techniques can help achieve better symmetry between the reconstructed breast and the natural breast.

Optimal Results for Individual Cases: A combined approach can be tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of each individual, ensuring the best possible reconstruction results.

Aesthetic Flat Closure (AFC) aka Going Flat

Many people think of reconstructive surgery as breast reconstruction with tissue flaps or implants. But aesthetic flat closure – considered to be the gold standard for going flat – is also a form of reconstructive surgery when a smooth chest wall contour is created post-mastectomy. This option is increasingly popular among women for:

Faster Recovery:  When it comes to breast reconstruction procedures, opting for a mastectomy with aesthetic flat closure is less disruptive to the chest wall muscle and other parts of the body outside of the breasts. As a result, this procedure is generally less painful and has a relatively quicker recovery time.

Avoiding Risks and Complications Associated with Implants or Flaps: Each breast reconstruction procedure whether using implants or flaps has its own considerable risks. The basic principles of aesthetic flat closure in a normal-sized patient include complete removal of the breast crease, aggressive removal of excess skin, and skillful reshaping and contouring of the tissue above and below the mastectomy incision, leaving behind a smooth and gentle profile.

No More Mammograms or Bras: Since all breast tissue, including skin and nipples, are removed, there is no more need for bras or mammograms, a welcomed lifestyle change by many.

Unlike other breast reconstruction options mentioned earlier, aesthetic flat closure is a topic that still needs a lot of support from past patients and advocacy groups. Patients interested in going flat should make sure they have full support and understanding from their surgeon and connect with other women and groups supporting their decision, such as:

Emotional and Psychological Benefits

Regardless of the specific technique chosen, breast reconstruction offers numerous emotional and psychological benefits, including:

Improved Body Image: Breast reconstruction helps restore a sense of wholeness and can significantly improve body image and self-esteem.

Enhance Quality of Life: Reconstruction can improve overall quality of life, self-confidence, and well-being, positively impacting personal relationships, social interactions, and overall happiness.

Sense of Closure and Moving Forward: Breast reconstruction provides a sense of closure to the breast cancer journey for many women, allowing them to move forward with renewed hope and positivity.

Breast Reconstruction: A Path to Healing After Mastectomy

Breast reconstruction is a life-changing journey for many women who have undergone a mastectomy. It is not only a physical process but also an emotional and psychological one that can help restore a sense of wholeness and empowerment.

Restoring Body Confidence

For many women, the loss of a breast can be a traumatic experience that can impact their emotional and psychological well-being. Breast reconstruction can help to recreate the shape and size of one or both breasts, allowing women to feel more comfortable and confident in their bodies. By restoring symmetry, improving overall contour, and providing more clothing options, breast reconstruction can enhance a woman’s sense of femininity and body image. Women who choose to go flat report embracing their body’s natural shape and no need for bras or mammograms, allowing them to feel more comfortable and confident in their own skin.

Emotional Rejuvenation

The emotional aspect of breast reconstruction cannot be overstated. For many women, undergoing a mastectomy can be emotionally challenging, and the loss of one or both breasts can contribute to feelings of grief, loss, or even diminished femininity. Breast reconstruction can help address these emotions by providing a physical transformation that aligns with an individual’s self-perception. It allows for emotional rejuvenation and a renewed sense of self.

Personal Empowerment

Breast reconstruction is a personal choice, and making the decision to undergo reconstruction is an empowering step in one’s healing journey. It allows individuals to take control of their bodies and make choices that align with their personal needs and desires. Breast reconstruction can help individuals reclaim ownership over their bodies, fostering a sense of empowerment and self-determination.

Enhanced Quality of Life

Breast reconstruction has been shown to enhance the overall quality of life for many individuals who have undergone mastectomy. It can improve body image, self-esteem, and intimacy, allowing individuals to engage more fully in social and personal relationships. The restoration of physical appearance through breast reconstruction contributes to an improved sense of well-being and happiness.

Support and Connection

Breast reconstruction is often a collaborative process that involves support from healthcare professionals, loved ones, and support groups. Connecting with others who have undergone breast reconstruction can provide a sense of camaraderie and understanding. It allows individuals to share their experiences, gain support, and navigate the emotional aspects of the journey together.

Jean-Claude Schwartz, MD, PhD – Breast Cancer and Reconstructive Surgeon     

Dr. Schwartz is a highly respected national leader in oncoplastic breast surgery. He is a preferred provider for the majority of insurance plans and is highly recommended by insurance companies and patients alike. By performing most of his surgeries in an outpatient ambulatory center, he is able to save his patients on hospital costs, co-pays, and more.

As a breast surgeon and reconstructive surgeon, he is able to perform most mastectomies and reconstructions in one surgery, saving his  patients time and money by seeing only  one expert, paying only one set of deductibles and co-pays, and most importantly, reducing time spent in the operating room while providing unparalleled results.

Dr. Schwartz and his entire staff specialize in breast surgeries, and as such, are highly experienced in dealing with insurance companies. They can provide guidance and invaluable information to women undergoing breast reconstructive surgeries. Additionally, as part of the Northside Hospital system, patients benefit beyond Dr. Schwartz’s practice.

 Dr. Schwartz is always accepting new patients diagnosed with breast cancer and makes it his priority to see them immediately, despite his very busy schedule.