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UW Health SMPH
American Family Children's Hospital

Breast Reconstruction FAQs

Breast reconstruction is a personal decision, and with so many options, you're sure to have questions. The UW Health Breast Center helps you understand your choices.


If you've decided to have breast reconstruction surgery and have more questions, see our After Surgery FAQs.


Why choose UW Health for breast reconstruction?

At UW Health, we offer a wide array of resources for individuals with breast cancer. One of the greatest benefits to our patients is that their breast care is provided by a team of specialists. When you come to UW Health for breast reconstruction or for cancer surgery of the breast, your care is managed by a team comprised of breast health nurses, radiologists, surgical oncologists, occupational therapists and many others. Your plastic surgeon is a key member of this team as well. Our patients appreciate the abundant resources available, and take comfort in knowing they can contact any team member at anytime to answer their questions.

Who is a candidate for breast reconstruction?

Women who undergo mastectomy for breast cancer are candidates for breast reconstruction. However, not every woman is a candidate for every type of reconstruction. For example, if a patient undergoes radiation therapy, they might not be surgical candidates for an expander and implant. However, they could undergo natural tissue reconstruction through a procedure such as a TRAM Flap or DIEP Flap. There are very few women who are not candidates for breast reconstruction. Factors that could affect your decision for breast reconstruction are your medical condition, emotional and general health as well as activity level and breast size and shape.


When should I talk to my doctor about breast reconstruction?


Most women who lose a breast to treat cancer can have it rebuilt through reconstructive surgery. Breast reconstruction is a surgical procedure that attempts to restore the appearance of a woman's breast. It can be performed at the time that a breast is removed or after all of a patient's cancer treatments are complete. The best candidates for immediate breast reconstruction (surgery done at the same time as mastectomy) are women whose cancer will not require radiation therapy or women who are choosing to remove their breasts due to a genetic mutation or strong family history of breast cancer. Other women might be advised by their doctors to wait on breast reconstruction surgery or undergo delayed breast reconstruction (surgery done at a later time), depending on their overall health, stage of the breast cancer and the amount of skin tissue available for reconstruction.


What does breast reconstruction involve?


Breast reconstruction surgeons typically use one of two common procedures: skin expansion or flap reconstruction. Skin expansion involves expansion of breast skin and insertion of an implant. Following mastectomy, your surgeon inserts a balloon expander beneath the skin and chest muscle and gradually fills it with saline over several weeks. After skin over the breast area has stretched enough, the expander is removed and a second operation is done to insert a permanent implant. During the flap reconstruction procedure, tissue is taken from the back, abdomen or buttocks and placed on the front of the chest wall. This tissue could be enough to reconstruct a breast, or a breast implant may be added.


Do I have a choice between immediate and delayed breast reconstruction?


Yes. Your plastic surgeon will work with you and discuss your personal goals for reconstruction and help you make the right decision for you. Read more on this topic to help with your decision.


How real do reconstructed breasts look and feel?


A reconstructed breast can feel firmer and look rounder or flatter than the natural breast. It might not have the same contour as your breast before mastectomy or exactly match your opposite breast. But these differences will only be apparent to you. For most reconstruction patients, breasts are so close in size that you will feel comfortable in any type of clothing. Although breast reconstruction restores the shape of the breasts, it cannot completely restore breast sensation. Over time, however, some feeling may return. In a few cases, the nipple and areola can be preserved, but the majority of times these are removed with the mastectomy and can later be redesigned with a tattoo by your plastic surgeon.


What happens before breast reconstruction surgery?


Prior to surgery, and at the time of your "workup" or pre-operation exam, we will discuss medications or vitamins and perform any necessary lab work, EKGs and or X-rays. If you have had an untoward reaction to anesthesia, you will be seen in our anesthesia screening clinic.