Breast cancer is frightening, and personally devastating. Thanks to early detection methods, life-threatening cases of breast cancer can be successfully treated, leaving patients healthy, but without breasts. The thought of losing your breasts may make your worry that you will no longer look and feel feminine or be desirable.
Thankfully, federal law requires that health insurance companies cover breast reconstruction – which should be planned in advance of undergoing a mastectomy, as in some cases, the reconstruction can be performed in the same surgical appointment as the mastectomy. Other breast reconstruction procedures will be delayed.
A sometimes complex but incredible procedure for restoring breast tissue lost in cancer treatment, breast reconstruction is a critical aspect of emotional healing. Board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Whitfield is a leading breast reconstruction surgeon and honored to be involved in your journey to better health, and a confident, happy life.
As a surgeon who has worked with breast cancer patients for past two decades, Dr. Whitfield is particularly sensitive to your needs. He recognizes that this is a very vulnerable and frightening time in your life. His job is to be there for you in whatever capacity necessary, side-by-side on every step of your journey through breast reconstruction.
An autologous reconstruction uses your own tissue to form a new breast mound. The most common flap used by Dr Whitfield in breast reconstruction is called the “DIEP free flap.” Excess skin and fat are taken from the lower abdomen, leaving the blood vessels attached, and transferred to the chest where it is connected to the internal mammary vessels.
The advantage of the DIEP free flap is that the muscles and nerves are spared; it delivers a natural looking and feeling breast. As part of the recovery process each patient will be placed in a physical therapy protocol. Physical therapy, proper rest, and nutrition help you achieve the best recovery. There is a surprising added advantage – you will also have a slimmer, trimmer lower abdomen after the tissue is harvested and moved to create your breast.
At one time, there was only a single breast reconstruction option: Implant based reconstruction. Unlike the autologous reconstruction options, implant reconstruction uses an implant to restore volume and shape. Dr. Whitfield will first insert tissue expanders either above or below the muscle. When placed above the muscle, the expander is wrapped in Alloderm, a supporting medical mesh to hold the implant securely in place.
This FDA-approved material makes it possible to have tissue coverage for the implant to be placed. The more tissue covering the implant, the smoother and more natural the result. If the tissue expander is placed beneath the chest muscle, the chest muscle will be elevated, with the Alloderm placed to support the position of the implant.
Another common autologous reconstruction is the TMG or Tug flap. In this method, skin and fat or skin, fat and muscle are removed from the inner thigh. The flap is then transferred up to the chest and connected to the internal mammary blood vessels. The downside of this method, compared to the DIEP flap, is that it leaves a scar on the inner thigh which may be harder to hide than one on the abdomen. Also, the recovery may be slightly longer.
Dr. Whitfield has performed thousands of breast reconstruction surgeries after either a partial or full mastectomy. He uses the latest techniques, including the DIEP flap method to create a new breast with your own natural tissue.
The most common breast reconstruction follows a full mastectomy of one or both breasts. There are three main methods of reconstruction:
During your breast reconstruction consultation, Dr. Whitfield will examine your unique anatomy and discuss your goals. He will also consult with your breast surgeon and oncologist to understand everything about your condition, future necessary treatment and other issues that could affect breast reconstruction. Together, you will come up with the treatment plan that is right for your body and lifestyle.
Through a series of outpatient office visits, the tissue expanders slowly stretch the skin of the chest to make room for the implants to be placed. Once this is completed, Dr. Whitfield likes to allow two to three months for the tissues to fully heal before removing the tissue expanders and placing your breast implants. Nipple reconstruction is the final step and can be performed using a 3D tattoo or with your own tissue and a tattoo.
Breast reconstruction is performed under general anesthesia in a hospital or at an accredited surgery center. As with any surgery, recovery varies, patient to patient. Most of breast reconstruction procedures involve more than one component with some downtime between each step. This is a process that typically involves several recoveries.
In general, however, you can expect to be back to most normal activities in about 6 weeks from your initial reconstructive surgery. Other surgical steps are performed as an outpatient with recovery periods that vary based on the procedure(s) performed.
Widely recognized as being one of the finest board-certified plastic surgeons practicing in Texas.