This page will give you information about a breast reconstruction with an implant or tissue expander. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.
What is a breast reconstruction with an implant or tissue expander?
A breast reconstruction is an operation to recreate a breast shape after you have had a mastectomy (removing all your breast). Your surgeon will use a breast implant or tissue expander (expandable implant) to recreate the shape of a breast.
What kind of breast implant should I choose?
All implants are made of an outer layer (shell) of silicone or polyurethane. They can be filled with silicone or saline.
Softer silicone and saline implants give a softer and more natural feel but are more prone to kinking or rippling.
More cohesive silicone implants give a firmer feel, hold their shape more and are less prone to kinking or rippling.
If you have already had a mastectomy, your surgeon may need to use a tissue expander. Over a number of weeks your surgeon will gradually fill the tissue expander with saline through a small tube (port) to stretch your skin and make your breasts similar in size.
Is silicone safe?
There is a reported link between having an implant and a rare type of cancer called anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL) but the increase in risk is small and ALCL in this area is not as serious as it is when it happens elsewhere in your body.
What are the benefits of surgery?
You should get a breast shape again. Most women who have a successful breast reconstruction are more comfortable with their appearance.
Are there any alternatives to a breast reconstruction with an implant or tissue expander?
Using padded bras or bra inserts can give the appearance of a breast shape when you are wearing clothes.
It is possible to use tissue from another area of your body, usually your lower abdomen or sometimes from your buttocks, inner thigh or side.
A reconstruction can be performed using the latissimus dorsi muscle that is moved from the side of your back and used to recreate a breast shape.
What does the operation involve?
The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes 1 to 2 hours.
If you have already had a mastectomy there is usually not enough skin to recreate a breast shape so you will need a tissue expander to stretch your skin. Your surgeon will make a cut on the front of your chest over the mastectomy scar, or at the lower end of your new breast. They will create a pocket under the muscle to place the tissue expander in.
What complications can happen?
Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.
General complications of any operation
- Infection of the surgical site (wound)
- Unsightly scarring of your skin
- Blood clot in your leg
- Blood clot in your lung
Specific complications of this operation
Breast reconstruction complications
- Developing a lump under your wound caused by fluid collecting
- Developing a lump under your wound caused by blood collecting
- Wound breakdown, where a wound fails to heal and opens up
- Skin necrosis, where some of the original breast skin at the edge of your wound dies leaving a black area
- Difference in shape and appearance
- Numbness or continued pain around your armpit or the inner part of your arm
- Permanent numbness around the scar on your chest
- Developing a collection of fluid (seroma) in the pocket where the implant is
- Capsule contracture, where scar tissue that your body naturally forms thickens and tightens around the implant
- Rupture of an implant
- Kinking and rippling
- Infection of the implant
- Failure of the reconstruction
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home after 2 to 3 days.
You should be able to return to normal activities after 4 to 6 weeks.
Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
If your surgeon needed to use a tissue expander, you will need to come back to the clinic regularly.
The shape of your reconstructed breast takes several weeks to settle.
A breast reconstruction with a breast implant or tissue expander is an operation to recreate a breast shape. You should consider the options carefully and have realistic expectations about the results.
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Last reviewed: September 2019