Breast Reconstruction

  • Medical Author: Allen Gabriel, MD, FACS
  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Is breast reconstruction surgery possible after radiation?

Radiation therapy can change the breast reconstruction options that are available for a woman. Some may decide not to have the surgery if there is concern about monitoring the chest wall for recurrence. If the plan for chest radiation is known prior to the mastectomy, the surgical team may recommend a delayed reconstruction. On the other hand, some surgeons now also place a temporary implant, the expander, into the pocket prior to the radiation therapy. All of these efforts are to minimize complications after the final reconstructive procedure since the risk of complications is now higher after the breast is radiated. Radiation therapy changes the skin often causing the skin to “shrink wrap” and be very difficult to stretch.

What is the recovery like after breast reconstruction surgery?

Like any surgery, recovery varies after breast reconstruction surgery. Healing will continue for several weeks and one should follow the surgeon's instructions during this period. It is important not to lift, strain, or exert excessive force around the surgical area during the recovery period. The plastic surgeon will give the instructions that will include how to care for the surgical site, possible warning signs to watch for, and which medications to take to increase healing and reduce the risk of infection. It is generally recommended to take sufficient time off work to allow for the healing to take place. In addition, good nutrition is important as the body is working overtime to heal the surgical areas. Physical therapy is a crucial component of healing phase and it is recommended for all the types of procedures that are performed. Knowing the limitations of physical activity is important and continuous support of the new chest with a supportive bra for 2 to 3 months following the reconstruction is essential. The body heals over a period of time. Unusual breast sensations, twitching, and some discomfort are part of the entire healing process that can take a couple of years.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2015

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