Can I Have Reconstruction After Recurrence of Cancer? Should I Go to My Local Surgeon or Elsewhere?

This week, Dr. Richard Kline and Dr. James Craigie of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction answer your questions.

Q: I have been diagnosed with a second primary breast cancer in the right breast. 13 years ago it was IDC now DCIS. What are my reconstruction options? 

A: I’m sorry you are having to deal with a recurrence. Glad to hear it is DCIS. I imagine you had radiation before and could have mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. If you like I will have my office contact you for a few more details.  I would be glad to set up a phone consult so you could get my opinion right away.

Dr. James Craigie


Q: I was referred by a coworker who was a patient. I’ve had a bilateral mastectomy, expanders and two sets of implants (taken out due to capsular contracture). My plastic surgeon said my body just isn’t taking to the implants and suggests I try DIEP flap reconstruction. My plastic surgeon does them, but my coworker said she recommends more experience. At this point I am torn. She suggested I contact you. I live in Florida and I am very comfortable with my surgeon, but understand the more you do, the better you are. I’ve also had a gastric bypass 10 years ago and I am scheduled for a hysterectomy (via DaVinci robot) Oct 2nd.

A: Thanks for your inquiry, and sorry for the trouble you’ve had.

Having said that, more surgeon experience, having two microsurgeons involved, and using a hospital with a dedicated flap team does potentially provide benefits, probably most so in terms of shorter operating times and increased flap survival rates. We have presently done about 1030 DIEP and GAP flaps, with a 98.4% survival rate, and we would be happy to see you at any time.

However, I would suggest that you consider discussing your concerns with your plastic surgeon, and if he still feels confident he can do it, I think I would give him the benefit of the doubt. Even if you ultimately decide to have your surgery elsewhere, it would be very helpful to have him on board with your decision.

Dr. Richard M. Kline, Jr.

Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction

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Breast Implant Alternatives to Adding Volume, Shape, and Projection to a Breast

charleston breast surgeonsThe below question is answered by Charleston breast surgeon, Dr. Richard M. Kline, Jr. of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction:

In July 2010 I had I-GAP reconstruction. The results are awful. Do you have techniques that can work with a flap and add volume, shape, and projection to a partially recreated breast without the use of implants?

Sorry to hear about your problem, but it’s not terribly unusual to not have quite enough tissue after flap reconstruction. That’s actually good for you, because it means we have some experience dealing with this. The most desirable techniques to try, and in what order, depend on your body type and preferences, but here are some options:

1) Fat grafts: Your fat from anywhere you don’t want it can be harvested with liposuction and injected into the breast mounds in the desired areas. Survival of the fat is not strictly predictable, but often a significant amount remains permanently. Several sessions may be required, however.

2) Vth intercostal artery perforator flap: This is a fancy name we give when we utilize the extra roll of skin and fat that a lot of patients have (& hate) on the side of their chest behind the breast, under the armpit. It is left attached at the front, the skin is removed, and the flap is tunneled under the skin at the side of the breast, then across the top of the breast as far as it will reach. Besides making the breast bigger, this technique has the particular advantages of covering the upper border of the pectoralis muscle (often visible just under the skin after reconstruction), and lifting the breast in what is often a very aesthetically pleasing way. The disadvantage is that it adds a scar under the arm from where the flap was taken.

3) Additional perforator flaps: No one likes to hear this, but sometimes it is the best answer. We have always been able to find suitable blood vessels and add flaps successfully whenever we have had to try this, and the results have been favorable. Definitely not the first choice for most people, but good to know it’s a tried-and-true technique if you absolutely need it.

4) Finally, a small implant under a too small but otherwise healthy flap is often surprisingly well-tolerated, even in radiated patients. Not for everyone, but an option that has been used quite successfully in some instances, nonetheless.

We went through our “iGAP phase” some years ago, and abandoned it not because of the reconstructive results, but because we decided the sGAP donor site resulted in far more favorable buttock aesthetics.

–Dr. Richard M. Kline, Jr.

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What To Do If Fear Is Keeping You From Undergoing Breast Reconstruction

breast reconstructionThe question below is answered by Dr. Richard M. Kline, Jr., of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction.

I am scheduled for reconstruction on the 29th. I feel as though I shouldn’t go through with it because, for one, I am 58 years old and secondly because I am scared that I will not be pleased. Thirdly, I heard that it is very painful and is worse than the bilateral mastectomy I had. I am so confused as to what to do.

Firstly, if you are scared, and feel strongly that you shouldn’t do it, then DON’T—END OF DISCUSSION! We’re talking about a quality-of-life surgery, not life-saving surgery. Attitude about the outcome is far too important to risk going into it feeling like you shouldn’t.

Having said that, unless you have a serious medical condition making the surgery dangerous, diabetes, or inadequate donor sites (I assume we’re talking about DIEP or GAP flaps), statistics suggest it might not be as bad as you fear.

Age is of no consequence—some of our happiest DIEP patients (and best healers) have been in their 70s.

Satisfaction with the final outcome is critically dependent upon realistic expectations, which can only be arrived at through careful preoperative discussion with your surgeon, and ideally, also through discussion with other patients.

Perforator flap surgery IS more painful than mastectomy, but pain is a relative thing. A few patients say it is terrible, most say it was about what they expected, and a few say they had almost no pain, even the day after surgery. I can think of one patient out of hundreds who suggested she might not have gone through it if she knew how bad the recovery would be.

Best of luck to you, and please feel free to ask any more questions.

—Dr. Richard M. Kline, Jr.