A large percentage of women are not informed about breast reconstruction during the surgical decision-making process for their cancer, in spite of the fact that breast reconstruction has been shown to improve a woman's quality of life following mastectomy. In addition, even when breast reconstruction is discussed, the spectrum of available reconstructive options is not always offered. As a plastic surgeon committed to caring for women with breast cancer, I strive to educate my patients about the latest techniques available to them so that they can make informed choices that are in their best interests.
In general, there are two types of breast reconstruction techniques: 1) those that use breast implants and 2) those that utilize tissue from a woman's own body ("flap"). While both methods can produce good results, the decision as to which is most appropriate is based on a woman's unique characteristics.
The flap techniques utilize tissue from a woman's own body (donor area) -- this tissue may be transferred from a woman's tummy (DIEP flap), thigh (TUG/VUG), back (TAP/Latissimus), or buttock (SGAP/IGAP/PAP). Advantages of flap reconstruction include a soft, natural feel to the breast, as well as improvements in the donor area (similar to a "tummy tuck"). However, flap techniques often require microsurgical expertise (performed by surgeons with specialized training to work under a microscope), and not all women are candidates for this type of procedure.
Because the advanced flap techniques are not performed by all plastic surgeons, it is important to educate women as to their available options. But it is also vitally important for women to ask questions and do their homework -- an educated patient is an informed patient. Furthermore, it's possible that even the most advanced breast reconstruction techniques are available right in your local hospital, or at one very nearby -- where you can be close to family and friends during this stressful time.
As we approach Breast Cancer Awareness month, stay informed, continue the fight against breast cancer, and educate yourself!
Loren S. Schechter, MD, FACS
University Plastic Surgery
Chicago Plastic Surgery Research Foundation
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