Restoring Your Appearance and Spirit After Breast Cancer
By Alexander Au, MD, FACS, Plastic Surgeon, Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program
Your body and silhouette are forever altered after breast cancer surgery. It can be very emotional.
Some women embrace a new appearance or feel a sense of freedom. Others choose to use prosthetics rather than surgery, or nothing at all. We offer resources for every women and every choice to feel whole and confident again.
A lumpectomy, the surgical removal of a tumor and surrounding tissue, can leave the breast distorted. Oncoplastic reconstruction, performed by Penn Medicine | Virtua breast surgeons, sculpts the remaining breast tissue, sometimes along with fat taken from another part of the body, to restore a more natural shape. The other breast is also modified to create a symmetrical appearance.
For a mastectomy, the surgical removal of one or both breasts, there are two main options: implants and autologous reconstruction.
Implant procedures use a saline or silicone implant to rebuild the breast. A tissue expander is placed under the remaining skin and half filled with saline. During office visits over the next several weeks, the expander is gradually filled. Once the skin stretching is complete, a second surgery replaces the expander with a final implant.
Unlike implants, autologous reconstruction (DIEP flap) uses the woman’s own tissues to rebuild the breasts.
We take fat and skin from the lower part of the abdomen, similar to a tummy tuck, and use them to reconstruct the breast. The blood vessels removed with the tissue are connected to arteries and veins in the chest, providing good blood flow. In an addition to a good cosmetic result, women get the benefit of having extra tissue along their belly removed and their shape contoured.
Following surgery, many women choose to have nipple reconstruction. For breast cancer survivors, this aids in emotional and physical recovery. An increasingly popular option is medical tattooing, or micropigmentation.
A micropigmentation specialist creates the illusion of an areola and a protruding nipple with a convincing 3-D effect. The tattooing is performed in one session with minimal discomfort. Little to no recovery time is needed.
Many reconstructive procedures are done at the time of the lumpectomy or mastectomy, though some can be done later.
The Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program has the experience women can count on. Our surgeons perform more autologous breast reconstructions each year than any other center in the world. Patients do better and recover faster from that level of experience.
While no one choice is right for everyone, we strive to give women all of their options to restore their appearance and spirit.
It’s Your Journey, but Not Yours Alone
To connect with a Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program breast specialist within 48 hours, visit virtua.org/BreastCare or call 888-847-8823.
Updated May 13, 2021