Breast Cancer: Is Natural Breast Reconstruction Right for You?

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Breast cancer patients who undergo mastectomies are often faced with the decision of how best to reconstruct their breasts. Currently, implant reconstruction is the most common way of rebuilding the shape of their breasts after surgery. However, one drawback of implants is that they typically need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years.

An alternative to implant reconstruction that's growing in popularity is known as natural breast reconstruction, or breast reconstruction using natural tissue. This method uses skin and fat from certain body parts to create a natural-feeling breast.

But what exactly does natural breast reconstruction entail, and is it the right choice for you?

What Is Natural Breast Reconstruction?

The human breast consists mainly of fat, especially after a woman's child-bearing age. At its core, natural breast reconstruction involves transplanting fat from one area of the body — such as thighs, buttocks and back — to another.

Natural breast reconstruction is also known as DIEP flap, or deep inferior epigastric artery perforator flap. This procedure removes extra skin and fat from the lower abdominal area, where many women carry surplus tissue. However, the muscle and function of the abdominal area will still be maintained after the surgery.

Once this tissue is removed, blood vessels from the tissue are attached to blood vessels in the breast area. The arteries and veins from the removed tissue are sewn to arteries and veins in the chest area using a microscope to restore blood flow to the tissue and make the transplant a success.

Natural Breast Reconstruction Myths vs. Facts

Because synthetic implants are still the prevailing choice for breast reconstruction, several myths have propagated throughout the medical community regarding the downsides of natural breast reconstruction. Many patients worry that the surgery will be too long, that the recovery will be too difficult, or that there will be a significant chance of failure.

However, these concerns are usually unfounded. Typically, the surgery lasts about five hours when in the hands of an experienced physician. Patients usually recover in the hospital for two to three days, with nonopioid medications that mitigate the pain well.

A full recovery typically occurs within two to six weeks, with an average recovery time of four weeks. This is only slightly longer than implant breast reconstruction, which has an average recovery time of three weeks.

In addition, the risks of failure and complications are minimal. The failure rate of natural breast reconstruction is very low, at around 0.7 percent, and can be lowered with the right surgical team. The hernia rate from this type of operation is less than 2 percent.

By dispelling these myths around natural breast reconstruction, an operation that once seemed scary becomes something realistic and tolerable, and perhaps preferable for certain situations.

Making the Right Choice for You

The benefits of a successful natural breast reconstruction are invaluable. Rebuilding breasts with their own body tissue provides patients significant improvements in their mental attitude and bodily sensation.

Of course, there are real downsides to natural breast reconstruction surgery, including the risk of infection or serious bleeding, and not every patient is a good candidate for the surgery.

However, if you are curious about natural breast reconstruction, schedule a consultation with an experienced breast reconstruction surgeon. They can help by answering questions and empowering you with the knowledge you need to make the best decision.

We are here to help.

If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Network or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 855-546-1815 or click the request a consultation button.

David H. Song, MD, is MedStar Health’s Washington Regional Chief of Plastic Surgery and Academic Chair for the Department of Plastic Surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center.

As such, he directs the full range of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery services at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

An internationally recognized expert in plastic surgery, Dr. Song is known for his pioneering work in chest wall reconstruction techniques, particularly DIEP flap procedures, and oncoplastic surgery. He is also a specialist in performing lymphovenous bypass and lymph node transfer using microsurgical and super-microsurgical techniques to reduce the severity of lymphedema.

A widely published and prolific researcher, Dr. Song is an associate editor for plastic surgery’s leading professional journals, a reviewer for many other medical publications, and an editor or co-author of numerous text books and chapters, respectively.  He is a frequent guest lecturer at major medical schools and hospitals, and appears regularly as a speaker at national and international conferences. Dr. Song has been recognized as a top regional doctor by Castle Connolly and Chicago Magazine,

Before joining MedStar, Dr. Song was chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at The University of Chicago Medicine. He is a past president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and a director for the American Board of Plastic Surgery, among others.

Dr. Song received his medical degree with thesis from the University of California School of Medicine, Los Angeles. He then fulfilled his internship at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where he subsequently completed the rest of his training: residencies in general surgery and plastic surgery, followed by a fellowship in microsurgery. Dr. Song also holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Learn more about this physician.