Breast cancer is devastating to women. Thanks to early detection methods, life-threatening cases can potentially be avoided, leaving patients with life but potentially no breasts. For those survivors, the thought of losing their breasts after a breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating. They fear that they will no longer look and feel feminine, be desirable, or that a mastectomy will make them feel less whole. Enter breast reconstruction surgery
A sometimes complex but incredible procedure for returning that which has been lost to cancer patients, breast reconstruction is rewarding to both patient and doctor. Board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Whitfield is a leading breast reconstruction surgeon, helping patients achieve their femininity through a variety of procedure options.
Dr. Whitfield has performed thousands of breast reconstruction surgeries after either a partial or full mastectomy. The most common breast reconstruction is one following a full mastectomy of one or both breasts. Here, there are three methods of reconstruction:
During your breast reconstruction consultation, Dr. Whitfield will examine your unique anatomy and discuss your goals. He will also consult with your breast surgeon and oncologist to know exactly the situation underneath your chest. Together, you will come up with the treatment plan that is right for your body and lifestyle.
As someone who has worked with breast cancer patients for the last two decades, Dr. Whitfield is particularly sensitive to your needs. He recognizes that this is a very vulnerable and frightening time in your life. His job is to be there for you in whatever capacity necessary, side-by-side on every step of your journey through breast reconstruction.
An autologous reconstruction uses your own tissue to form the mound of the breast. The most common flap used by Dr Whitfield in breast reconstruction is the DIEP free flap. Excess skin and fat is taken from the lower abdomen, leaving the blood vessels attached, and transferred to the chest where it is connected to the internal mammary vessels.
The advantages of the DIEP free flap are that the muscles and nerves are spared; it delivers a natural looking and feeling breast. As part of the recovery process each patient will be placed in a physical therapy protocol. Physical therapy, proper rest, and nutrition will allow patients to have the best recovery.
Another common autologous reconstruction is the TMG or Tug flap. In this method, skin and fat or skin, fat and muscle are removed from the inner thigh. The flap is then transferred up to the chest and connected to the internal mammary vessels. The downside of this method, compared to the DIEP flap, is that it leaves a scar on the inner thigh which may be harder to hide than one on the abdomen. Also, the recovery may be slightly longer.
It used to be that the only breast reconstruction option was the implant based reconstruction. Unlike the autologous reconstruction options, implant reconstruction uses an implant for volume and shape. Dr. Whitfield will first insert tissue expanders either above or below the muscle. When placed above the muscle, the expander is wrapped in Alloderm.
Alloderm is an FDA approved material that allows the surgeon to create more tissue coverage for the eventual implant. The more tissue that covers the implant, the more natural the result. If the tissue expander is placed under the muscle, the chest muscle is elevated and Alloderm is used to support the position of the implant.
Through a series of outpatient office visits, the tissue expanders slowly stretch the skin of the chest to make room for your implants. Once this is completed, Dr. Whitfield likes to allow 2-3 months for the tissues to fully heal before removing the tissue expanders and placing your breast implants. Nipple reconstruction is the final step and can be performed using a 3D tattoo or with your own tissue and a tattoo.
Breast reconstruction is performed under general anesthesia in an hospital or an accredited surgery center. As with any surgery, recovery is going to vary by patient. Most of breast reconstruction procedures involve more than one component with downtime for healing in between. This is a process with multiple recoveries.
In general, however, you can expect to be back to most normal activities in about 6 weeks from your initial reconstructive surgery. Other surgical steps are performed as an outpatient with recovery periods that vary based on the procedure(s) performed.
To find out more about breast reconstruction surgery with Dr. Robert Whitfield, call us today at 877-785-2382 or schedule a consultation at our Austin location in West Lake Hills.