Breast reconstruction is the rebuilding of a breast, usually in women. It involves using autologous tissue or prosthetic material to construct a natural-looking breast. Often this includes the reformation of a natural-looking areola and nipple. This procedure involves the use of implants or relocated flaps of the patient's own tissue.
The primary part of the procedure can often be carried out immediately following the mastectomy. As with many other surgeries, patients with significant medical comorbidities (high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes) and smokers are higher-risk candidates. Surgeons may choose to perform delayed reconstruction to decrease this risk. There is little evidence available from randomised studies to favour immediate or delayed reconstruction. The infection rate may be higher with primary reconstruction (done at the same time as mastectomy), but there are psychologic and financial benefits to having a single primary reconstruction. Patients expected to receive radiation therapy as part of their adjuvant treatment are also commonly considered for delayed autologous reconstruction due to significantly higher complication rates with tissue expander-implant techniques in those patients. Waiting for six months to a year following may decrease the risk of complications, but this risk will always be higher in patients who have received radiation therapy.
Delayed breast reconstruction is considered more challenging than immediate reconstruction. Frequently not just breast volume, but also skin surface area needs to be restored. Many patients undergoing delayed breast reconstruction have been previously treated with radiation or have had a reconstruction failure with immediate breast reconstruction. In nearly all cases of delayed breast reconstruction tissue must be borrowed from another part of the body to make the new breast.
Breast reconstruction is a large undertaking that usually takes multiple operations. Sometimes these follow-up surgeries are spread out over weeks or months. If an implant is used, the individual runs the same risks and complications as those who use them for breast augmentation but has higher rates of capsular contracture (tightening or hardening of the scar tissue around the implant) and revisional surgeries.
Outcomes based research on quality of life improvements and psychosocial benefits associated with breast reconstruction served as the stimulus in the United States for the 1998 Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act, which mandated health care payer coverage for breast and nipple reconstruction, contralateral procedures to achieve symmetry, and treatment for the sequelae of mastectomy. This was followed in 2001 by additional legislation imposing penalties on noncompliant insurers. Similar provisions for coverage exist in most countries worldwide through national health care programs....LESS