Breast Implant Reconstruction Surgery

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Breast implants are the most common choice for breast reconstruction. They’re made of a silicone shell filled with either saline (sterile saltwater) or silicone (gel), and they come in a range of sizes and shapes.

Many women get implants in both breasts, even if they’re having a single mastectomy (removal of one breast). This helps breasts look more symmetrical, since it’s not always easy to match the appearance of an implant to a natural breast.

Advantages
  • Shorter surgery time
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Quicker recovery
  • Avoids scars elsewhere on the body
Things to Consider
  • Reconstructed breast does not feel and age naturally
  • Scar tissue can form
  • Implant may need to be replaced
  • In rare instances, infection may require removing the implant

Why Choose Breast Implants?

Implant reconstruction is a good option for many women after mastectomy. Some reasons you might choose breast implants:

  • You want to return to normal activities as quickly as possible
  • You don’t have enough body tissue for autologous reconstruction
  • You don’t want scars on other parts of your body

Implant Surgery Basics

Implant reconstruction is a multi-step process. It starts with a temporary implant, called a tissue expander. The expander is typically placed under the chest muscle during mastectomy surgery. Sometimes it’s placed above the muscle, directly under the skin.

Tissue expanders have a built-in valve that allows them to be gradually filled with saline in an outpatient clinic. You’ll begin the process about two weeks after surgery. It takes around two to six visits to fill the expander.

After your skin heals completely, you’ll have outpatient surgery to replace your tissue expander with a permanent implant.

I wasn't a candidate for flap surgery, and I knew how good implants look.
Tara Haberman age 36, bilateral mastectomy with implants

What to Expect with Implants

Reconstruction with breast implants can get you back normal, daily life faster than autologous reconstruction. There are two general approaches to this surgery. The most common involves a tissue expander. Less often, women can get a permanent implant during mastectomy surgery. Here’s what’s involved in each process.

The Timeline for Implant Reconstruction with a Tissue Expander

With tissue expanders, the process for breast implants will take months, start-to-finish. The good news is, you can perform many regular activities during this time.

Tissue Expander

  • Hospital Stay: 0 to 1 night
  • Recovery: 4 to 6 weeks

Tissue Expander to Implant Exchange

  • Hospital Stay: None (outpatient)
  • Recovery: 3 to 4 weeks

Nipple Reconstruction

  • Hospital Stay: None (outpatient)
  • Recovery: Minimal
The Timeline for Direct-to-Implant Reconstruction

Sometimes a permanent implant can be placed during the mastectomy, which eliminates the tissue expander phase and second surgery. This is called direct-to-implant surgery. It’s typically best for nonsmokers who started out with relatively small breasts, and want their implants to be small as well.

Direct-to-Implant

  • Hospital Stay: 1 night
  • Recovery: 2 to 4 weeks

Nipple Reconstruction

  • Hospital Stay: None (outpatient)
  • Recovery: Minimal

 

FAQs: Preparing for Surgery

Tips and advice to prepare for all types of reconstruction surgery – like what to expect the day of surgery, what to bring, and how to prepare.

Learn more

FAQs: Life After Surgery

More information and resources about life after reconstruction surgery – like what to expect and how to prepare for life after surgery.

Learn more

Get the Support you need at MSK

MSK offers compassionate care from a team of experts offering the latest breast reconstruction techniques. We’re here for you every step of the way, before, during, and after surgery.

Financial Services at MSK
Managing the cost of your cancer treatment can be stressful and difficult. To speak with someone about your options, contact your Patient Access Coordinator (PAC).

Support & Helpful Resources
Your mental health is important, too. We offer many resources to help you through the emotional aspects of breast reconstruction.

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