Reconstructive breast surgery is often performed following mastectomy (the surgical removal of one or both breasts) as treatment for breast cancer. This procedure offers cancer patients and survivors the potential to restore a more natural and feminine silhouette. It may be performed immediately following the removal of breast tissue, or as a second surgery at any point after the mastectomy.
The Reconstructive Breast Surgery Procedure
Reconstructive breast surgery takes two to six hours to perform, and requires general anesthesia. An incision in the skin allows the surgeon to place implants or donor tissue into the breast area, increasing the volume of the breasts. If any natural breast tissues remain following the mastectomy, these will be sculpted by the plastic surgeon to maximize their apparent volume. The goal of this procedure is to create the most natural appearance possible.
During breast reconstruction surgery, tissue is added to the chest in order to increase breast size. This can include saline or silicone breast implants, like those used for cosmetic breast augmentation procedures. It can also use donor muscle, skin, and fat, usually taken from the buttocks or back. While the use of donor tissue allows for a more natural feel in the reconstructed breasts, it also requires a donor site on another area of the body, and can increase the recovery time. The method of reconstruction is determined in consultation with the surgeon before the procedure is performed.
Once the additional tissues have been inserted into place and the sculpting work is complete, the surgeon places the skin back over the new breasts and closes the incisions using sutures.
Recovery Following Breast Reconstruction
Most patients spend one or two nights in the hospital after breast reconstruction surgery, especially if that procedure was combined with mastectomy. Common side effects during the healing process include tenderness, soreness, swelling, and bruising. A surgical bra or compression garment holds the tissues in place as they heal. Most patients are able to return to their pre-surgery activity levels within two to three weeks after reconstructive breast surgery.
The Cost of Breast Reconstruction
Most breast reconstruction surgeries cost about $5,000 to $8,000. This procedure is usually covered by health insurance, since the 1998 Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act requires insurance providers who cover mastectomy procedures to also cover these patients' reconstructive surgeries.
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