When most people think about breast implants, they assume they’re only used to make healthy breasts larger. However, implants are also commonly used to reconstruct breasts for women who have battled (or are still battling) breast cancer. While the same types of implants are used for both procedures, there are important differences between breast augmentation and breast reconstruction, and one of these differences is that in a reconstructive surgery, implants require extra effort to keep them supported in place.
In a typical breast augmentation, there is a certain amount of skin, breast, and muscle tissue which keeps the implant securely in place and gives it a natural-looking finished appearance. But in a breast reconstruction, on the other hand, much of this tissue has been removed, so extra measures need to be taken in order to protect the implant against gravity and to keep it in a desirable position. There are essentially two ways to offer support to a breast implant: using a specialized material called acellular dermal matrix or using the patient’s own tissue.
The option that I use for nearly all of my patients’ implant-based breast reconstructions is to actually use the patient’s own tissue. This is typically done using a portion of the latissimus dorsi muscle from the back, which is transferred to the breast area and used to support the implant. If the patient needs additional skin added to the breast, it can be taken from this same area during the surgery, but for patients whose mastectomy spared enough skin to offer the appearance they want, the latissimus dorsi tissue can actually be moved to the breast with no incision (and no scar) in the back. This is an advanced technique I developed called the scarless latissimus dorsi flap, and it has provided patients with a way to achieve more successful and natural-looking results for years to come with no additional scarring.
If the latissimus dorsi flap is not an option, the other common method is to use an acellular dermal matrix (ADM). This device takes donated tissue and removes all the cells, leaving in place the mesh-like “structure” of skin. This is then used like a sling, often attached to the muscle, to support the weight of the breast implant and to help your body grow new supportive tissue. For a patient who needs to begin the reconstruction process with a tissue expander instead to create a pocket for the breast implant, an ADM can also be used during this stage.
While breast augmentation is a relatively straightforward cosmetic surgery, breast reconstruction is a more specialized and complex procedure which should be performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon who has extensive experience in the surgery. This is especially true for any woman interested in using her body’s own tissue for breast reconstruction, as these procedures are more intricate and complex. To learn more about my experience in both implant-based reconstructions and breast reconstruction using a patient’s own tissue, explore my website and schedule a consultation with me, Dr. Franklyn Elliott to discuss your unique needs and my recommendations for you. And for more information about breast reconstruction and other plastic surgeries, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.