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 for undergoing a mastectomy. 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. Helen Allison 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 the past two decades, Dr. Helen Allison is particularly sensitive to your needs. She recognizes that this is a very vulnerable and frightening time in your life. Her job is to be there for you in whatever capacity necessary, side-by-side, on every step of your journey through breast reconstruction.
Autologous reconstruction uses your own tissue to form a new breast mound. The most common flap used by Dr. Helen Allison 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 connected to the internal mammary vessels.
The DIEP free flap’s advantage 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. Helen Allison 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 implant’s position.
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. Compared to the DIEP flap, the downside of this method 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.