Breast Reconstruction Risks and Side Effects

by Trudi Schrieber

Breast Reconstruction Risks and Side Effects

Breast reconstruction is a very common procedure for women who have undergone a mastectomy as a result of breast cancer, or other breast injuries. The procedure is quite safe when performed by a skilled, board-certified plastic surgeon. The procedure is a major surgery, though, and therefore breast reconstruction involves some risks and side effects, which you and your doctor should discuss before the surgery.

General breast reconstruction risks, whether flap or implant, include:

  • Bleeding—Rarely, excessive bleeding can occur.
  • Excessive scar tissue—Too much scar tissue after breast reconstruction may require an additional surgery for scar tissue removal.
  • Scarring—Scars are usually minimal. Sometimes scars are more noticeable, particularly in tobacco users.
  • Fluid collection with swelling and pain
  • Infection—All surgeries carry a risk of infection.
  • Change in breast and/or nipple sensation
  • Fatigue—After undergoing a major surgery, most individuals will be tired as their body heals. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take plenty of time to recover.
  • Negative reaction to anesthesia—All surgeries requiring anesthesia carry a possible allergic or other negative reaction.

Possible risks or complications of breast reconstruction differ depending on the type of reconstruction you and your surgeon select. Flap breast reconstruction, during your own skin, blood vessels, and muscle tissue are removed from another area of your body and used to reconstruct the breasts, involves a higher risk of infection, and potential complications not associated with traditional implant reconstruction. A TRAM flap surgery, for example, uses tissue from the lower part of the abdomen, and the abdominal area can be affected. The removal of the muscle does weaken the abdomen, and there is a small risk of an abdominal wall hernia, in which a portion of the intestine bulges out through the weakened area of the abdomen. Chronic pain is another potential side effect.

Flap surgery recipients may also experience “fat necrosis.” This occurs when the transplanted tissue forms lumps in the breast. Sometimes, these lumps need to be surgically removed. It is also possible that the tissue may not reattach well to the blood vessels in the chest. Thus, the body rejects the flap.

Breast reconstruction risks specific to implants include breast implant shifting, hardening, or rupturing. Hardening is called capsular contracture, and may require additional surgery to remove the scar tissue. It is also possible that the body may reject an implant up to 2-4 years after it has been inserted. In these cases, the implant must be removed. Usually, a new implant can be inserted to replace the rejected one. Women who have implants should expect to have the implants replaced after 10-15 years.

Individuals undergoing breast reconstruction should be aware that there is sometimes a need for additional surgeries to correct problems. Sometimes these surgeries are needed to refine the shape of the breasts, or to remove scar tissue. For those who elect nipple reconstruction, an extra surgery is required.

Smokers should understand that smoking greatly increases the chance of experiencing breast reconstruction complications. Smoking constricts the blood vessels and reduces the supply of nutrients and oxygen to tissues. Using tobacco can delay healing, leading to more visible scars and longer recovery times.

While the risks may seem daunting, it is very important to consider that the chances of experiencing complications from breast reconstruction are very slim. When you select a board-certified plastic surgeon, you significantly mitigate the changes of experiencing breast reconstruction risks or side effects. Additionally, it is very important for you to be honest with your surgeon about your medical history and to follow his or her instructions very carefully.

To learn more about the potential risks and side effects of breast reconstruction, contact Plastic Surgery Portal. Our representatives are here to schedule your personal consultation with a top, board-certified surgeon in your area.

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