Breast reconstruction 101 Before making any decisions, it's important that women know their options and make efforts to consult an experienced plastic surgeon, who will help figure out what's best...

Woman with breast reconstruction after cancer

Breast reconstruction 101

Before making any decisions, it's important that women know their options and make efforts to consult an experienced plastic surgeon, who will help figure out what's best for her. Breast reconstruction can be done using either breast implants or tissue from another part of the body. It depends on both a woman's personal preference and what her doctor recommends.

The process consists of many different stages; it can be started at the same time as the mastectomy, or after the patient has healed from surgery.

The surgical techniques used are based on the amount of skin tissue available. Some patients may need a tissue expansion prior, which is a process that takes about 2-6 months. This makes the implant easier to place and can make the recovery time easier and shorter.

If the mastectomy was performed in such a way that the skin envelope was saved in the surgery, a tissue expansion isn't necessary. Tissue flap procedures are another option, where tissue can be taken from the stomach, back, thighs or buttocks, and is then reconstructed in the breast. One of the newer tissue flap procedures is TUG (Transverse Upper Gracilis) Flap. TUG is a technique in which tissue from the upper thigh is used to create a new breast and reattached with microsurgery to the breast area. The technique does not cause a loss of function and the tissue is shaped to look and feel natural. Another benefit of this is that there is no need to change the implants and there is no risk of rupture. Many women choose to have a breast augmentation or breast reduction to improve the symmetry of the breasts after the breast reconstruction is complete.

So breasts appear more natural following the procedure, there are techniques to create a nipple and areola. This is usually the final phase of breast reconstruction; it is a separate minor surgery that is done after the new breast has time to heal. Similar to flap procedures, tissue can be taken from other parts of the body — such as the groin, thigh or buttocks — or from the breast itself, to rebuild the nipple and areola. The area is then sometimes tattooed to match the color of the nipple of the other breast.

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