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Breast Reconstruction using Breast Implants

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center offers breast cancer patients a variety of reconstruction options. We use the most advanced techniques to help you achieve the best results possible with the least amount of downtime and risks. If you’re thinking about breast reconstruction, make an appointment with our breast cancer team today.

What Is a Breast Implant?

Breast implants are a popular option for breast reconstruction. Implants come in many sizes and profiles, fitting different body types and desired results. Implants are filled with either saline or silicone, both of which have been ruled safe by the Food and Drug Administration and can be put under the skin or muscle on your chest.

Breast implants work best for women who have not had radiation. You also may consider implants if you don’t have enough or don’t want to use your own tissue for a flap procedure.

You may choose to have breast reconstruction with implants immediately following cancer surgery. Or, you may decide to wait weeks, months, or even years to decide. Learn more about immediate and delayed breast reconstruction.

What to Expect During Breast Implant Surgery

In some cases, your surgeon may be able to insert the implant at the same time as your mastectomy. It can take four to six weeks to recover from this type of implant surgery. Be sure to take the time you need to heal in order to reduce the risk of complications.

In most cases, your surgeon will place a tissue expander to stretch the skin and chest muscle. This technique is sometimes called delayed-immediate reconstruction. Over the next several months, saline is gradually added to the expander during clinic visits. Once the pocket for the implant is created, the tissue expander must remain in place for another one to three months. When your body is ready, a surgeon will remove the tissue expander and insert the breast implant. Generally, this last step is outpatient surgery under general anesthesia. Recovery for this surgery is about two weeks.

Advantages of Breast Implants

  • The simplest way to reconstruct the breast (versus tissue flap)
  • Never have to go without breast shape
  • Little scarring
  • Surgery and recovery time are shorter than other methods

Disadvantages of Breast Implants

  • Breast may feel firmer, less mobile, and colder than living tissue
  • Frequent office visits to expand tissue
  • Longer process start-to-finish if using tissue expander
  • Issues with nipple reconstruction due to thinner skin
  • Asymmetry with natural breast
  • Multiple steps often needed to achieve the final shape or appearance

Risks and Side Effects of Breast Implants

With breast reconstruction surgery using implants, you may experience:

  • Risks with anesthesia
  • Breast pain
  • Poor healing of incisions
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Increased risk of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare immune system cancer associated with a specific type of implant

With breast implants, you may experience longer-term side effects such as:

  • Changes in sensation
  • Differences between breast size or appearance (asymmetry)
  • Possibility of future surgery to replace or remove the breast implant
  • Implant rupture or deflation
  • Scar tissue can form around the implant and cause unnatural shape (capsular contracture)

What’s the Difference Between Implants and Flap Surgery?

Some women may choose to recreate the breast using their own tissues, called flap surgery. Abdominal flap surgery uses tissue from your stomach or other parts of the body to form a new breast mound. There are pros and cons to this approach, and it may not be right for everyone. Ask your doctor about which options might be best for you.

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