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Breast Implant for Breast Reconstruction: Before Your Surgery

A tissue expander and breast implant after mastectomy

What is breast implant surgery for breast reconstruction?

Breast reconstruction is a type of surgery. It rebuilds your breast after you've had part or all of a breast removed. It is often done for people who have cancer. But people who have problems with breast development can also have this surgery. It usually takes more than one surgery to rebuild a breast.

The breast surgeon who does your mastectomy can refer you to a plastic surgeon with special training in breast reconstruction. You will meet with the plastic surgeon before your mastectomy to discuss the best procedure for you. The surgeon will be able to recommend the type of implant that will work best for your body type.

In this type of surgery, the doctor uses a device called an implant. The implant gives your breast its shape. The nipple and the darker area around it (areola) are usually created later.

Several types of implants are available. Some of the most common implants have a soft silicone shell filled with saline (salt water) or silicone gel. Silicone may create a more natural-looking breast, because its weight and texture is more like breast tissue.

In some cases, an implant is placed during the same surgery that removes the breast. In other cases, a tissue expander is inserted right after the breast is removed. The expander is used to stretch the skin to make room for the implant. This stretching happens over a period of months. Every 1 to 2 weeks, the expander is filled with a little more salt water or air. When the tissues have stretched enough so the implant will fit, your doctor will remove the expander and insert the implant.

You will probably be asleep during the surgery. And you may get a medicine that numbs the breast area. The doctor will try to make cuts in places on your body that won't be seen. These cuts are called incisions. Sometimes the doctor uses the same incisions that were used to remove the cancer. The incisions leave scars that fade with time.

After surgery, you will probably go home the same day or the next day. Many people can go back to work or their normal routine in 3 to 6 weeks. But it depends on the type of work you do.

Your new breast will look and feel different after surgery. With an implant, your breast will likely not have any feeling. Your new breast may be more firm, round, or flat than your other breast. It may also not look the same as the breast that was removed. Some people have surgery on the other breast to make them look as alike as possible.

If you aren't able to have a nipple-sparing mastectomy, you have options if you want your new breast to have a nipple and areola. You can have surgery to create a nipple out of tissue. A tattoo can add colour to the raised nipple and create an areola. Another option is a tattoo of a nipple and areola that creates a 3-dimensional look. Or you may use a prosthetic nipple and areola that attaches temporarily to your breast.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.

  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.

  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.

  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery will take 1 to 2 hours.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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