Ask the Doctor-Would reconstruction be successful for me?

This week, James E. Craigie, MD, of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answers your question.

Question: I had implants put in 33 years ago, got breast cancer, had a lumpectomy, radiation, and got rock hard implants as a result. I just recently decided to have the implants removed and a great deal of scar tissue. They put in expanders that caused me to get an infection. I had to almost beg them to believe me as the pain was horrific. I had a 2nd doctor remove the expanders. I now have a very deformed left breast and a severely drooping right breast. I contacted the doctor who put my implants in years ago. He is no longer in the area, but told me about this procedure.

I guess my question is if this procedure would be successful for me? I do not like the way I look, and it is painful as well. I am a teacher, and would need to know the time frame this would entail. It has been a horrible summer with this ordeal. I almost wish I left the rock-hard implants in. Please let me know what you think. I am very much interested in hearing your thoughts. 

AnswerThank you very much for your question. I’m sorry you have had so much difficulty. Your situation is unfortunately quite common, but the good news is that natural breast reconstruction with you own tissue can often help dramatically. Fortunately, a history of radiation (&/or multiple failed attempts at implant reconstruction) does not at all decrease the success rate of subsequent reconstruction using only your own tissue. We have successfully reconstructed hundreds of women in your situation.

Our first choice for a donor area, if you have some extra tummy tissue, is the DIEP flap. If you do not have adequate tummy tissue, the buttocks (sGAP flap) is also often an excellent donor area.

It is important to realize that natural tissue reconstruction is not just an operation, but a process. The first operation, the microsurgical transfer of the flaps, is by far the largest. It usually takes 6-8 hours, requires a 4 day hospital stay, and a total stay in Charleston of about a week. Recovery takes approximately 6-8 weeks.

After you have healed fully from the first surgery (usually 6 months if you have been radiated), 1-2 additional surgeries are required to achieve optimum results. These are much less involved, ordinarily requiring only one night in the hospital, and you can usually go back home as soon as you are discharged.

While the process can be lengthy, once you are done, you are REALLY done. Most women reconstructed with their own tissue come to regard their reconstructed breasts as their own, and are finally able to put the issue of breast cancer behind them.

I would be happy to call and discuss your situation in more detail, if you wish, and thanks again for your question.

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