Post Mastectomy Breast Reconstruction Basics: Understanding Your Options

Plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist Dr. Constance Chen offers practical tips on breast reconstruction.

Breast reconstruction has come a long way. Although breast cancer was known to the ancient Egyptians as far back as 1600 B.C., it was not until the 18th century that it was understood to be a localized disease whose spread could be contained by isolating and removing the affected cells, and it was not until a hundred years later that pioneering work was done on what we know today as mastectomy.

Early practitioners of surgical breast removal did not believe in reconstruction. They feared that any intrusion at the surgical site could adversely affect the progression of the disease or hide a recurrence. So while the first attempts at reconstruction were made in the 1890s, it was not until the mid-20th century when radical surgery gave way to equally effective but less aggressive treatments that interest in breast reconstruction soared. Today, women have many options for breast reconstruction and every woman can make an educated decision about what is best for her.

Dr. Constance Chen, plastic surgeon

There are two types of breast reconstruction and multiple options for each: implant-based breast reconstruction and natural tissue breast reconstruction, also known as “autologous reconstruction.” Either type can be performed immediately, or months or even years after the mastectomy. For the best results, most breast reconstructions will require more than one procedure. Many factors will influence a woman’s decision on the best option for her. Chief among them are her general medical and genetic history, the size, location, and characteristics of her tumor, her treatment plan, and her aesthetic expectations. “An initial consultation with her surgeon will help a woman sort through her options,” says Dr. Chen, “but it is important for her to start with a general understanding of the basics of breast reconstruction.”

Reconstruction with implants

The introduction of silicone implants in the 1960s signaled the beginning of the modern era of breast reconstruction. Implant insertion used to be delayed until after the mastectomy had healed but now is often done in a single surgery at the time of the mastectomy. Usually, a temporary device called a tissue expander is placed on the chest wall and gradually filled with saline solution until the tissue has expanded enough to hold the permanent implant. Today, breast implants are either filled with saline or silicone, and the outer shell is either smooth or textured. The silicone gel has also become more cohesive over time so that there are now different types of silicone gel implants with different degrees of firmness.

“Implants have continued to improve and many women are happy with them,” says Dr. Chen, “but patients should be aware that implants are not expected to last a lifetime. In the United States, all breast implants have a ten-year warranty but complications such as pain, infection, hardening, and rupture lead many implants to be removed well before that. Some women find that their breasts feel hard and look unnatural, or that they’ve lost all feeling in the breast, or that their breasts are distorted and asymmetrical.” According to the implant manufacturers, at least half of breast implants need another operation within 7 years. Many women who suffer complications or are unhappy with implants ultimately have them removed and opt for reconstruction with their own tissue.

Reconstruction with your own tissue

The gold standard in breast reconstruction today is surgery that creates a breast from a woman’s own tissue, a procedure, known as “autologous reconstruction.” Natural tissue breast reconstruction creates a breast that is soft, warm, and when combined with nipple-sparing mastectomies can be barely distinguishable from a woman’s own breast. Unlike implant-based reconstruction, a restored breast made of her own tissue reacts just like any other part of her body, expanding or contracting with weight gain or loss, for example. When nerve reconstruction is added, the reconstructed breast may be sensitive to touch. Autologous reconstruction produces the best aesthetic result and the highest level of patient satisfaction but it should be noted that it requires more complex surgery and a longer recovery than reconstruction with implants.

Autologous tissue breast reconstruction uses tissue from a donor site in the patient’s own body to create the new breast. This type of reconstruction has been done for decades but new advances have made it unnecessary to sacrifice muscle from the donor site which reduces recovery time and enables a woman to maintain muscle strength. In this new type of reconstruction, known as “perforator flaps,” microsurgical techniques are used to carefully separate muscle from the fat and skin that will form the new breast. “Perforator flap reconstruction can use tissue from several donor sites,” says Dr. Chen. “Most often, tissue is taken from the abdomen, but for thin women or women who have had a previous tummy tuck, it may be more appropriate to use tissue from the upper inner thigh.”

Nipple and areola reconstruction

Changes in mastectomy itself have also facilitated improved restoration results. Surgery that spares skin and the nipple-areola complex enhances the surgeon’s ability to create a breast much like the woman’s own. If there are cancer cells in or near the nipple and it cannot be saved, the nipple-areola complex can be reconstructed later using skin from the breast or from another part of the body. Three-dimensional tattooing is also an effective option that creates a realistic illusion of a nipple.

Nerve restoration

During a mastectomy, the nerves that provide feeling to the breast and nipple are severed, causing loss of sensation in the remaining skin whether the woman undergoes reconstruction or not. With certain types of autologous reconstruction, however, it is now possible to reconnect blood vessels and nerves and have them grow through the transferred tissue to reach the skin and significantly improve the return of sensation. “This is the next frontier in breast restoration,” says Dr. Chen. “By microsurgically reconnecting nerves that are cut and restoring sensation to the breast, we can not only create a soft, warm breast that looks and feels natural to others but one that feels like her own breast to the woman herself.”

“The evolution of restorative techniques over the last several decades has been remarkable,” Dr. Chen concludes. “What makes a woman feel ‘whole’ again after mastectomy is an individual matter but we will continue to pursue solutions that enable her to regain not just her health but her confidence and sense of self”.

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

Plastic Surgeon and Breast Reconstruction Specialist Dr. Constance M Chen Offers Tips on Improving Post Mastectomy Breast Reconstruction Results

When secondary breast reconstruction is necessary. Breast reconstruction should be thought of as a process rather than a single procedure. Most mastectomies will not be identical, and it is unusual for the initial breast reconstruction to have perfect symmetry. Usually, breast reconstruction requires multiple stages to obtain the ideal results.

The objective of breast reconstruction after mastectomy is to create a natural breast with the shape, symmetry and softness of the original. In most patients, modifications are needed after the initial surgery to accomplish that goal. Women should know that with a customized plan and advanced surgical techniques, we can often improve shape, size, and symmetry after the initial breast reconstruction to help a woman’s breasts look better and feel more normal.

Dr. Constance M. Chen, plastic surgeon

In most cases, the best aesthetic outcomes are achieved with natural tissue. There is a principle in plastic surgery to ‘replace like with like’. On the operating room table, the actual breast tissue looks and feels like regular fat – breast tissue and fatty tissue look and feel the same. As a result, when it is feasible to use a woman’s own fat to recreate the breast, the reconstructed breast will feel very much like the original – sometimes it is almost identical.

Women should know that even if they had reconstruction with breast implants that the implants can be removed and replaced with natural tissue. While many women with implant-based breast reconstruction are happy with the results, some women who have undergone breast reconstruction with implants feel uncomfortable because breast implants are usually placed underneath the muscle. In these cases the subpectoral breast implants can cause rigidity and trouble with breathing, and a hyper-animation deformity can also result in which the patient’s breasts move up and down when she flexes her pectoralis muscle.

In our experience, many women are surprised when their breast implants are removed and replaced with natural tissue. They commonly report feeling much more comfortable and they are pleased that their new breasts feel and look normal.

Dr. Constance M. Chen, plastic surgeon

Breast reconstruction problems can also arise due to asymmetry. Breasts should look like sisters if not twins, and it’s best when at least they look like they belong to the same family. It is easiest to obtain symmetry with bilateral reconstruction, in which the incisions from the mastectomy and reconstruction method are the same. However, in cases where only one breast has undergone a mastectomy with breast reconstruction it may be necessary to perform additional procedures on the other breast to achieve symmetry. Fortunately, the 1998 Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act requires all health insurance companies to cover all stages of breast reconstruction and any complications from all stages of mastectomy or breast reconstruction, and symmetry procedures on the opposite breast are also covered. A woman’s right to breast reconstruction at any stage is protected by federal law and many state laws.

Refining and improving breast reconstruction

One common type of secondary breast reconstruction procedure is fat grafting, in which fat is collected from another part of the body through tiny incisions via liposuction. The extracted fat is processed to remove impurities, and then the fat graft is transferred by injections into the breast. This process is used to make the breast larger or to correct contour deformities by sculpting and filling in small areas to improve breast size, shape, and symmetry.

Another common secondary breast reconstruction is called mastopexy or breast lift. Here the goal is to improve the look and/or evenness of the reconstructed breasts. Reconstructed breasts are usually perkier, particularly after implant-based breast reconstruction. If only one breast has undergone mastectomy and breast reconstruction, a mastopexy may be needed on the unaffected breast to match the reconstructed breast. A breast lift will remove excess skin and raise the nipple-areola complex so that the breast sits higher on the chest wall. A breast lift will not significantly alter the size of the breast.

Finally, in some cases the breast size may need to be modified with a breast reduction or a breast augmentation. A breast reduction is similar to a breast lift, except breast tissue is removed along with the breast skin to make the breast smaller. A breast augmentation may be performed with fat grafting or a breast implant.

Any of these procedures can also be implemented on the reconstructed breast(s).

Additional procedures to achieve symmetry are almost always needed for women who have undergone a unilateral (single-sided) mastectomy and breast reconstruction with a breast implant. On the other hand, the best aesthetic outcomes are from bilateral (double-sided) nipple-sparing mastectomies with immediate natural tissue breast reconstruction. When all the breast skin has been preserved and the breast reconstruction is performed with natural tissue at the same time as the mastectomy, it can be nearly impossible to tell that a woman has had a mastectomy.

“Too many women have experienced the devastating upset of a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment only to have added disappointment of an unsatisfactory reconstruction outcome,” says Dr. Chen. “Correcting a poor or uncomfortable reconstruction can be the last step in restoring a woman’s physical and emotional health and improving her quality of life.” Even women who have not had the gold standard in mastectomy and breast reconstruction from the beginning can undergo secondary breast reconstruction to improve their initial results.

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

Pros and Cons of immediate versus delayed post-mastectomy breast reconstruction

A new breast cancer diagnosis is emotionally challenging, and it becomes even more difficult when women must also make decisions about treatment during a stressful time. In the case of a woman who will have a mastectomy, the difficulty can be even more overwhelming due to the variety of options available and the choices she must make about if, when and how to have breast reconstruction.

According to Constance M. Chen a board-certified plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist, “there are two types of breast reconstruction, breast implants and natural tissue breast reconstruction that uses the body’s own tissue, also known as autologous tissue breast reconstruction.” And with each scenario, there are multiple options. One time-sensitive consideration is whether to have the reconstruction performed immediately in the same surgery as the mastectomy, or delayed by months or even years after the mastectomy. Dr. Chen details the considerations of immediate versus delayed post-mastectomy reconstruction.

Immediate Reconstruction

One of the primary advantages of immediate reconstruction is blunting the emotional suffering from losing one or both breasts. “For many women, waking up from a mastectomy and seeing that she still has breasts is very positive”. Immediate reconstruction that conserves the nipple, areola, and skin is the highest standard in breast reconstruction. Nipple-sparing mastectomy preserves the entire skin envelope, which makes it possible to preserve the breast shape. Thus, regardless of the type of reconstruction, whether implants or natural tissue, the resulting breast shape will always be best after nipple-sparing mastectomy. When performed with natural tissue, the reconstructed breast has the added benefit of being soft, warm and alive, and it is also possible to reconnect nerves to restore feeling.

One drawback of immediate reconstruction is that the hospitalization and recovery time may be longer than with a mastectomy alone with breast reconstruction. Moreover, for women with advanced disease who need immediate chemotherapy, immediate reconstruction may delay treatment until after healing is complete.

Delayed Reconstruction

Delaying reconstruction sometimes shortens the recovery time after a mastectomy. If a patient has a high-grade tumor or advanced disease, she may elect to delay reconstruction so that she can start her chemotherapy or radiation therapy sooner. With both implants or with the woman’s own tissue – breast reconstruction can be performed after healing from the mastectomy is complete and after chemotherapy and radiation therapies, if those are required.

The biggest drawback to delaying reconstruction is the need for another surgery at a later date, and the potential for an inferior aesthetic result. This is particularly true if the patient has not undergone nipple-sparing mastectomy, and/or if the patient needed radiation therapy. Without nipple-sparing mastectomy, a significant amount of breast skin may have been removed, which permanently deforms the breast by changing the shape and flattening it. Radiation therapy also alters the remaining breast skin and tissue so that it does not stretch and heal normally. Without nipple-sparing mastectomy, the skin will need to be stretched with a tissue expander if using breast implants. With natural tissue breast reconstruction, skin from the patient’s donor site can make up for the lost skin, but it may appear as a patch. In these cases, there will likely be a need for additional follow-up procedures to improve the overall cosmetic result.

One of the biggest considerations driving the timing of reconstruction is whether the woman will need radiation therapy after her mastectomy. “Radiation therapy always automatically unfavorably affects the aesthetics of any breast reconstruction,” says Dr. Chen. “But if a woman wants autologous tissue reconstruction, she may be advised to postpone placing the natural tissue until her radiation is completed.” In these cases, the patient can undergo a delayed immediate reconstruction, in which a tissue expander is placed at the time of mastectomy to save the breast skin, and then the natural tissue reconstruction is performed after the radiation is completed.

The Takeaway

According to Dr. Chen, “women have the best aesthetic result and the most sustained level of satisfaction with nipple-sparing mastectomy and natural tissue breast reconstruction. Autologous tissue reconstruction produces a soft, natural breast that looks and feels like the breast lost to mastectomy. Most breast surgeons are reluctant to perform nipple-sparing mastectomy without immediate breast reconstruction, because of the deflated appearance of the breast skin. Whether immediate or delayed, however, preservation of the nipple-areola complex and all of the breast skin sets the foundation for the best possible breast reconstruction”.

“There are pros and cons to immediate and delayed reconstruction, and each woman must consider personal and medical reasons for choosing the best course of action for them. Breast reconstruction is an integral piece of managing breast cancer,” says Dr. Chen. “We’ve made amazing developments in our ability to reconstruct a breast that closely resembles the breast lost to mastectomy. Today more than ever we can offer women a wide range of options to fit their medical needs and personal preferences, including the choice of when to have reconstruction. Each breast cancer patient has unique needs and we can help her get the best care that is ideal for her”.

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

Breastfeeding Won’t Cause Your Breasts to Sag and Nine other Surprising Facts about Breasts

More than any other organ in the human body, the breast occupies a place in our social and cultural landscape well beyond its physiological function to nourish our offspring. “The soft tissue that we think of as a breast is actually a mammary gland, a complex system of fat cells and ducts that produce milk and deliver it to a baby via the nipple”, says plastic surgeon and breast specialist Dr. Constance M. Chen. 

As much attention as we pay to the size, shape and appearance of a woman’s breasts, there are many fascinating facts – both important and trivial – that most people don’t know about breasts. Here are just a few of them.

1.   Breast size is hereditary. Genetics do play a role in determining breast size but not necessarily as you’d expect and they don’t tell the whole story. We inherit half our genes from each parent, so your breasts may not resemble your mother’s, her mother’s, or her sister’s. Your father’s genes have a say. “Environmental factors also play a role”, says Dr. Chen, “especially weight. Breasts are partly made up of fatty tissue so as you gain and lose weight, your breast size will change”.
2.   Humans are the only primates with permanent breasts. All mammals have breasts and produce milk for their young but we are the only ones who develop breasts at puberty and keep them throughout our lives. Others are temporary, growing when needed to nurse then receding until needed again.
3.   The ancient Egyptians knew about breast cancer as far back as 1600 B.C. Writings on papyrus describe tumors consistent with modern descriptions of the disease. Over the following centuries, many causes were suggested – from imbalances of bodily fluids to compression from tight clothing – and treatments ranged from cauterization to opium to arsenic.
4.   You cannot exercise your way to bigger breasts. “Breasts are made of tissue, not muscle”. says Dr. Chen. “They may change in size with hormonal and weight changes. But even exercising the underlying chest muscles won’t increase the size of your breasts any more than creams or lotions will”.
5.   Some animals get breast cancer. It is more common in dogs – and in some breeds – than in cats but tends to be more aggressive in cats. Spaying female dogs before their first heat dramatically reduces their risk of developing a malignant mammary tumor.
6.   Breastfeeding won’t cause your breasts to sag. Droopy breasts are a natural consequence of aging as skin loses elasticity and as dense breast tissue is replaced by fat, which is more prone to sagging. Smoking and multiple pregnancies are contributing factors but breastfeeding has no effect on elasticity and will not cause breasts to sag. Only corrective surgery can lift sagging breasts.
7.   The left breast is usually slightly larger than the right one. Very few women have perfectly symmetrical breasts. Differences in size up to 20% are normal. No one knows why the left breast is usually the larger one.
8.   Larger breasts don’t produce more milk. Milk production does not depend on the size of the breasts. Large breasts are often large because they contain more fat cells, not more milk-producing cells.
9.   Breasts are growing. The average bra size was 34B twenty years ago. Today, it is 34DD. Some of the change is due to companies inflating the sizes on their labels but increasing obesity, the number of women taking birth control pills, and exposure to environmental pollution are contributing factors.
10.   Breast implants won’t last a lifetime. Breast augmentation is the most commonly performed cosmetic surgery in the U.S. But women who get implants in their 20s should not expect to still have them thirty years later. “Most implants have a ten-year warranty”, says Dr. Chen, “but many develop problems well before then and have to be removed or replaced”.

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

Advances in Post Mastectomy Breast Reconstruction: Nipple Preservation

Dr.-Constance-M-Chen

Mastectomy has changed a great deal over the years. Long gone are the radical mastectomies of your grandmother’s day which removed not only breast tissue but also extensive breast skin, lymph nodes, and underlying chest muscles. By the 1980s, the most common approach was the modified radical mastectomy, which left the chest muscles intact.

Since then, the standard mastectomy is the simple mastectomy in which all of the chest muscles, most if not all of the lymph nodes, and most recently, the nipple and areola complex are all preserved. When combined with an immediate breast reconstruction at the time of the mastectomy, these techniques produce a superior cosmetic result while eliminating diseased tissue.

Nipple-sparing mastectomy has become more widespread as more breast surgeons realize the importance of the nipple-areola complex to patients after surgery. Looking and feeling normal and whole improves self-esteem both for women who are losing a breast to cancer and for those who are considering prophylactic (or preventive) mastectomy because they are at high risk for breast cancer due to family history or because they carry a genetic mutation.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

Women who are considering skin and nipple-sparing surgery must be evaluated for factors such as the size, location, and nature of the cancer to ensure that they are good candidates for the procedure. Imaging and examination are performed to look for tumor in the nipple and to rule out symptoms such as nipple discharge that might indicate the presence of disease in the nipple.

During surgery, all breast tissue is removed and the breast specimen is submitted to pathology to ensure that there are no cancer cells in or near the skin and nipple complex. Nipple preservation is possible with both small and large breasts and can be used when reconstruction is to be either with implants or with a woman’s own tissue (‘autologous reconstruction’).

Many women are candidates for nipple-sparing mastectomy, in which the nipple is preserved during the mastectomy. For women whose nipple has been resected a more traditional type of mastectomy, however, it is possible to surgically reconstruct the nipple to recreate a complete breast.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

The primary benefits of skin and nipple preservation are the superior aesthetic outcome and the resulting psychological boost. The combination of skin and nipple preservation with autologous reconstruction produces a soft, warm, natural breast that may be difficult to distinguish from the woman’s original breast.

The risk of breast cancer is considerably greater for women who inherit a genetic mutation, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, that makes a woman more likely to develop breast cancer. As more women become aware of their risk, those who test positive for the harmful mutations face the difficult decision of whether to reduce their risk by undergoing bilateral prophylactic mastectomy – preventive removal of both breasts.

These women may wonder if surgery that conserves the nipple will leave in place breast tissue that might be subject to cancer. The experience of thousands of women and their healthcare providers has been that nipple-sparing mastectomy is safe for women with genetic mutations and a major study in 2017 confirmed that prophylactic surgery essentially eliminates the risk of cancer with or without breast reconstruction.

(‘Oncologic Safety of Prophylactic Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy in a Population With BRCA Mutations’ by Jakub et al, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September 2017.) The report concludes that nipple-sparing mastectomies are ‘highly preventive’ against breast cancer in a BRCA population.

For women with no indication of disease in or near the nipple, including those with BRCA mutations, a nipple-sparing mastectomy essentially eliminates the risk of breast cancer and offers the opportunity for state-of-the-art breast reconstruction that maintains both the woman’s health and her sense of self.

 

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

 

 

 

 

 

Managing Expectations for Breast Reconstruction; It’s a Process

Dr.-Constance-M-Chen

Breast reconstruction has come a long way. Advances in surgical technique have made it possible to use a woman’s own tissue to construct a breast that is soft and warm and often very similar to the breast she has lost to mastectomy. This ‘autologous reconstruction’ has become the gold standard in breast reconstruction and can even offer women the possibility of reconnecting nerves to restore sensation to the breast.

Autologous reconstruction can be performed with excellent results at any time, but the best aesthetic outcome is achieved when we do reconstruction in a single surgery at the time of the mastectomy. When the woman awakes after surgery, she already has a new breast, which reduces the emotional impact of having lost a breast. However, it is important for women to know from her first surgical consultation that the breast she wakes up with after surgery – whether performed at the time of her mastectomy or later – may not represent the end of breast reconstruction but a giant first step. For most women, breast reconstruction is not a single procedure but requires a process of adjustments until the best possible result is achieved.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

The goal of reconstruction is to restore symmetry to a woman’s body – symmetry to her other breast and proper proportion to the rest of her body. Symmetry is easier to achieve when both breasts have been removed and are being reconstructed at the same time (bilateral reconstruction). When reconstructing one breast (unilateral reconstruction), it can be more difficult to match the size, shape, and position of the ‘sister’ breast and adjustments may be needed to one or both breasts to achieve the desired symmetry.

We have a wide range of techniques we can use to make the necessary adjustments. Each woman will have an individualized plan that may include one or more of these procedures.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

A mastoplexy or breast lift may be performed on the unaffected breast if its natural droop cannot be replicated in the reconstructed breast. A breast lift will remove excess skin and may elevate only the nipple and areola so they are placed higher on the breast or elevate the breast tissue itself so it sits higher on the chest wall. A breast lift will not significantly alter the size of the breast.

A breast reduction on the unaffected breast may be needed to match the size of the reconstructed breast. The procedure will remove excess skin and tissue and position the breast tissue and nipple-areola complex higher on the chest wall. Breast augmentation to increase the size of the unaffected breast will typically involve placing a silicone gel or saline implant under the pectoral muscle.

Fat grafting, which transfers fat from another part of the body to the breast, is very useful for filling small areas to improve size, shape, and symmetry. Fat is removed from the donor site, frequently the abdomen, using liposuction, which suctions fat out through tiny incisions, and injected into the breast. Fat grafting and liposuction may be used on the unaffected breast or to make small corrections to the reconstructed breast.

Abdominal wall repair may be performed if tissue taken from the abdomen to fashion the new breast leaves the abdomen in need of improvements to its contour.

“Adjustments to autologous breast reconstruction are generally made after the initial surgery has healed and other treatments are complete”. says Dr. Chen. “They represent the final steps in a woman’s journey to restore her health and sense of self”.

 

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

 

 

 

 

‘In Depth’ Series With Laurence Fishburne Discusses Breast Cancer Awareness

Photograph by Anna Shvets

Critically acclaimed actor Laurence Fishburne is given high praise for his compelling performances throughout the decades. Now the ‘King of New York (1990)’ actor is using his talents as host for public television’s ‘In Depth’ with Laurence Fishburne. The informational program highlights a large variety of globally essential topics to inform its viewing audience. An upcoming episode is to feature an issue that impacts the lives of many women worldwide: breast cancer.

In the United States, breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer found in women. Statistically, 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. This type of cancer occurs when DNA changes make normal healthy breast cells cancerous.

Risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, being overweight, and women of a Caucasian or African American ethnicity have a higher chance of developing the disease. Regular self-examinations are recommended for catching breast cancer early on, as well as regular breast cancer screenings for women age 40 and up.

Breast cancer is a scary experience for any woman, which is why increased awareness of the disease is crucial in prevention and saving lives. ‘In Depth’ will reveal more details about breast cancer awareness in the new episode. The segment is expected to be distributed during October, or Breast Cancer Awareness month.

‘In Depth’ with Laurence Fishburne is carefully inspected before broadcast. The informational TV segment has accepted numerous awards for its endeavors.

Immediate vs Delayed Breast Reconstruction: What is Right for You?

Dr.-Constance-M-Chen

Among the many medical, personal, and financial decisions a woman must make following a diagnosis of breast cancer and the need for a mastectomy are decisions about breast reconstruction. Does she want reconstruction? What kind? When? With so many questions coming at her, some women are relieved to learn that the decision about reconstruction is one that doesn’t have to be made right away.

With proper planning before mastectomy, breast reconstruction can be done with excellent results months or even years later. That said, there are advantages to immediate reconstruction – in a single surgery at the time of mastectomy – and every woman should be made aware of all the factors involved and given the opportunity to decide what is best for her.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

Both immediate and delayed reconstruction are viable options whether the woman opts for implant-based breast reconstruction or natural tissue breast reconstruction (also known as ‘autologous reconstruction’, because it uses a woman’s own tissue to create her new breast). While many women see implants as the quickest, simplest reconstructive option, controversy about the long-term safety of implants has led more and more women to consider natural tissue breast reconstruction, which many consider to be the ‘gold standard’ in breast reconstruction. Dr. Chen explains the advantages:

Along with nipple preservation and techniques that reduce scarring, autologous reconstruction can deliver a soft, warm, natural breast that is similar to a woman’s original breast. In natural tissue breast reconstruction, the reconstructed breast is living so it grows and shrinks as the patient gains and loses weight. Furthermore, new advances also make it possible to reconnect nerves and restore feeling to the reconstructed breast.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

Whichever type of reconstruction is chosen, there are many factors that affect the timing of reconstructive surgery, including a woman’s age, the stage of her disease, her general physical condition, and her treatment plan. For example, women who will need post-mastectomy radiation therapy and want natural tissue breast reconstruction are best served by delaying autologous reconstruction. She can undergo either tissue expander breast reconstruction or no reconstruction at the time of mastectomy, and then undergo autologous reconstruction after radiation therapy is completed to avoid radiating and damaging the healthy new tissue in her reconstructed breast.

This decision should be discussed with her medical team as early as possible,” says Dr. Chen. “If, after weighing all the factors, it is determined that a woman is a good candidate for immediate reconstruction, she can then examine the pros and cons of each approach.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

Immediate reconstruction

Immediate reconstruction is performed in a single surgery at the time of the mastectomy. After the cancerous breast tissue is removed, the reconstructive surgeon fashions the new breast, either with an implant or with tissue from another part of the woman’s body, most frequently the abdomen. When she awakes after surgery, she has a new breast, which for many women can be an important factor in her psychological and emotional recovery. Additional advantages include the fact that she must undergo just one major surgery and hospitalization, which has financial implications and accelerates the sense that she is putting breast cancer behind her.

Another important consideration is that it is sometimes easier to achieve a satisfactory aesthetic result with immediate reconstruction. The combination of skin- and nipple-sparing techniques with immediate reconstruction produce the best possible cosmetic result.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

One disadvantage of immediate reconstruction is that while it entails only a single surgery, it is a more complex surgical procedure with a longer hospital stay and recovery period. Also, because mastectomy is often time sensitive, there is less time for a woman to think through what kind of reconstruction she wants or whether she wants reconstruction at all.

 

Delayed reconstruction

Since delayed reconstruction can be performed months or even years after her mastectomy, a woman can complete all other treatments and give plenty of time to her decisions about whether or how to have reconstruction. She might also consider that her initial mastectomy will be a simpler procedure and she’ll recover more quickly.

We want every woman to understand the options available to her and make the decision that is best for her. Surgical techniques have come a long way and we can assure every woman that whatever choice she makes, we can help her achieve the best possible result and reconfirm her sense of self as she puts breast cancer behind her.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

The primary disadvantage of delayed reconstruction is that she will require a second surgery and hospitalization. The scarring from the mastectomy may also limit options for reconstruction. Also, since the breast skin will shrink after mastectomy, the shape and size of the original breast will be lost and sometimes it is difficult to remove skin creases that have developed.

 

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

 

 

 

Knowing What to Ask and Planning in Advance Before Breast Reconstruction Surgery

Dr.-Constance-M-Chen

Plastic Surgeon and Breast Specialist Dr. Constance M. Chen offers practical tips for women considering post mastectomy Breast Reconstruction.

A diagnosis of breast cancer upends a woman’s life, and forces her to make many personal, medical, and financial decisions. If a woman must undergo mastectomy, the predicament is further complicated by the decisions she must make about whether, when and how to have breast reconstruction. Many women undergoing breast reconstruction see implants as the quickest and simplest reconstructive option.

Controversy about the long-term safety of implants, however, has driven more and more women to choose ‘autologous reconstruction’, which uses a woman’s own tissue to create a soft, warm breast that looks and feels like her original breast.

“Whichever surgical option a woman chooses, she should have a thorough understanding of what to expect after surgery, when she goes home, and how her new breast will look and feel”, says plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist Dr. Constance M. Chen. “Knowing what to ask and planning in advance with her surgeon before surgery should reduce the risk of surprises later”.

“I’m going home! Yay! But with drains?”

Going home after surgery is an important step emotionally as well as medically. Each woman has a different sense of what is important to her sense of self. She should know in advance that she will probably leave the hospital with surgical drains still in place, and she will need to know how to manage the drains and accommodate them in her clothing as she resumes daily activities. She may be surprised that it is the mundane things, like being able to get in and out of clothes easily, going to the bathroom, and looking normal, that loom large.

“One or more surgical drains are usually required following mastectomy and reconstructive surgery”, says Dr. Chen. “Drains perform the important function of preventing the build-up of fluid in a surgical space”. The drain is a flexible tube that connects from the surgical incision to a small plastic bulb that collects fluid and must be periodically measured and emptied. Drains might be removed in the hospital but are more likely to be removed in the doctor’s office after surgery. Your nurse or doctor will instruct you on how to manage the drains and keep them secure and discreet. “Some patients find a post-surgical camisole with pockets for the drains to be convenient”, says Dr. Chen. “Others prefer an oversized sweater or blouse and loose-fitting pants with roomy pockets to hold the bulb”.

“What if my new breast isn’t what I expected?”

Autologous reconstruction, nipple preservation, and techniques that reduce scarring try to recreate a soft, warm, natural breast that is similar to a woman’s original breast. However, she may find that the natural ‘look and feel’ of her restored breast refers to how the breast will look and feel to someone else. The breast may not feel at all natural to the woman herself, because her reconstructed breast usually lacks feeling and may be completely numb to touch and sexual arousal.

“While results vary, advanced microsurgical techniques now make it possible to reconnect nerves and restore some measure of sensation to the breast”, says Dr. Chen. The importance of breast sensation is different for every woman and should be discussed in the initial surgical consultation so she knows what to expect – especially since not all surgeons are trained in techniques to restore breast sensation.

The goal of breast reconstruction, whether with implants or a woman’s own tissue, is to restore symmetry – to create a breast with the shape of the original that is in proportion with her other breast and with the rest of her body. Matching a reconstructed breast to an existing natural breast may not be possible in a single surgical procedure, however.

Follow-up modifications may be necessary to achieve the desired symmetric result. “For many women, breast reconstruction is a process rather than a single procedure”, says Dr. Chen. “Lack of symmetry in mastectomy patients after reconstruction can be corrected with adjustments to the reconstructed breast or to its unaffected ‘sister.’ This possibility should be discussed in the initial surgical consultation”.

“Our goal is to help every woman make informed decisions so that she can better understand her treatment and recovery”, Dr. Chen concludes. “Comprehensive, accurate information about what to expect is helpful to optimize physical and emotional outcomes”.

 

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.

 

 

 

 

Breast Reconstruction Specialist Dr. Constance M. Chen Offers Tips for Patients

Among women who opt for reconstruction after losing a breast to mastectomy, 80% undergo reconstruction with implants. “Many women see implants as the quickest, simplest reconstructive option”, says plastic surgeon and breast specialist Dr. Constance M. Chen. “Their other choice – natural-tissue reconstruction – requires a more complex surgery and longer recovery time”. However, studies have shown that the risk of cosmetic and health problems with implants in the first few years is significant and the risks increase over time. Implants aren’t expected to last forever. Most have a ten-year warranty although many will have to be removed before that.

Studies have shown that the risk of cosmetic and health problems with implants in the first few years is significant and the risks increase over time. Implants aren’t expected to last forever.

Dr. Constance M. Chen

Implants fail for many reasons. Different types have different characteristics that women must weigh against their individual requirements and preferences but all implants are foreign bodies and pose the risk of comfort and cosmetic problems. Dr. Chen describes some of the common complications and unsatisfactory results of implant reconstruction and provides tips on corrective measures and on options if implants have to be removed.

Infection can develop in the tissue around an implant, often in the days or weeks following surgery. That said, infection has been seen 20 years after implant surgery. Women with breast implants should take antibiotics if they undergo teeth cleaning or colonoscopy. Signs of infection are redness and swelling. Treatment with an antibiotic may be sufficient; if it isn’t, the implant may have to be removed.

Capsular contracture is a tightening – or contracting – of the scar tissue that forms around the implant as a natural reaction to the presence of the implant. The capsule is usually soft and barely noticeable but it may become hard and painful, like a calcified shell that develops around the implant. Symptoms of contracture usually develop gradually and may be noticed first as a feeling of mild tightening.

As contracture increases, the breast may appear misshapen and become very firm and painful, especially when lying on it. Treatment is to remove the implant and capsule surgically, but the capsule will reform and usually become harder more quickly. In some cases, the implant may be replaced with a new one wrapped in acellular dermal matrix to try to reduce capsular contracture; in others, natural-tissue reconstruction may be the best option.

Rupture becomes more likely as an implant ages. Saline implants may appear deflated or misshapen. Silicone implant ruptures are either silent, or they present as unusual pain due to the irritation to the surrounding tissues. Since silicone implant ruptures are silent, the FDA recommends breast MRIs for surveillance every 2-3 years for women with silicone implants. Ruptured implants are generally removed as long as the patient is healthy enough to tolerate surgery.

Displacement of the implant can occur for several reasons, one of which results from the placement of the implant under the chest muscle (sub-pectoral placement). Placement of a breast implant under the chest muscle can cause the breast to feel tight and painful, and flexing the chest muscle can also cause the implant to shift visibly under the skin and distort the breast.

The problem can be corrected by removing the sub-pectoral implant and placing a new implant above the muscle (pre-pectoral). A prepectoral breast implant is closer to the natural anatomy of the breast, because the natural breast is also above the chest muscle. The new implant may be wrapped in acellular dermal matrix to provide some additional soft tissue protection under the skin.

Many women who have had unfortunate experiences with implants prefer not to try again, even with a different type of implant or modified surgical procedure. They turn to natural tissue breast reconstruction, also known as autologous reconstruction, which is the ‘gold standard’ of breast reconstruction. Natural tissue breast reconstruction uses a woman’s own tissue to create a breast that is soft and warm and that lasts a lifetime.

Feeling cold occurs because there is no blood supply to the implant and because the skin that remains after the removal of breast tissue can be quite thin. Fat-grafting can help by adding additional ‘padding’ over the implant, but it is often of limited utility. A better solution is natural-tissue reconstruction, which recreates a soft, warm living breast.

About Dr. Constance M. Chen

Constance M. Chen, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City with special expertise in the use of innovative natural techniques to optimize medical and cosmetic outcomes for women undergoing breast reconstruction. She is Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Weill Cornell Medical College and Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery (Plastic Surgery) at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Dr. Chen is frequently invited to lecture nationally and internationally on new advancements in breast reconstruction and the surgical treatment of lymphedema. She is the author of three books, five book chapters, and fifty journal articles. She has also won numerous awards for her work in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the local, regional, and national levels.

Dr. Chen has developed a reputation in the community for the personalized attention that she devotes to her patients. She is committed to aesthetic restoration of the breast and body, and enjoys helping her patients achieve overall well-being. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to her than the joy she hopes to bring to her patients’ lives. Come into the beautiful world of Dr. Constance M. Chen.