When we think about cancer, a few things come to mind. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Hair loss. And often, remarkable recovery for cancer survivors.
We hear endless stories of breast cancer every day. It is probably the best-known form of cancer, and it gets a lot of coverage. There’s one part of breast cancer that is rarely discussed: breast reconstruction and breast reconstruction surgery options. Sometimes, a woman has to get a mastectomy as part of her treatment. This means she has had one or both breasts surgically removed to stop her cancer from spreading.
Other times, patients who have a high risk of contracting cancer get preventive mastectomies. Dr Rizk has vast experience in breast reconstruction surgery for cancer survivors and understands the importance of restoring self-confidence. Through breast reconstruction surgery, Dr Rizk restores these women’s shape, curve, and sense of femininity.
The goal of breast reconstruction surgery is to rebuild the breasts into a natural-looking state usually after a mastectomy. The breasts are often a crucial part of the body that contributes to a woman’s feeling of femininity and wholeness, so restoring the breasts can be a vital step to regaining those feelings after the grueling ordeal of battling cancer.
Reconstruction typically incorporates the remaining tissue along with implants and/or prosthetics. In most cases, the entire breast, nipple-areola complex, and underlying tissue have to be rebuilt. This can be a process that involves several steps and procedures as the body heals and adjusts to a reconstructed, whole state of being.
There are two categories of methods available for reconstructing the breasts and doctors may recommend either of them depending on your individual needs. Options include reconstruction with flap surgery and reconstruction with implant or fat transfer surgery.
Flap surgery is a more involved and complicated procedure used when insufficient skin and tissue is remaining after the mastectomy. In this case, “donor” skin and tissue are grafted from another part of the body, usually the back, belly, buttocks, or legs.
Implant and fat transfer surgery can be done if sufficient skin and tissue are remaining after the mastectomy, although techniques to stretch and grow more skin and prepare the chest for surgery may be employed. Implant surgery utilizes prosthetic implants to restore the shape of the breasts, while the fat transfer procedure harvests excess fat from one part of the body and uses it to fill and reshape the breasts.
The entirety of the fight against cancer can be painful in many ways, including struggles that are physical, mental, and emotional. After you have overcome all of that, restoring your physical appearance is often the final step, but it can have an enormous impact on regaining a sense of wellness. This is by far the most important and impactful benefit of breast reconstruction surgery.
Included among the psychological and emotional benefits, women who have breast reconstruction surgery also report feeling “normal” again as their appearance returns to its pre-cancer state. They say they feel less self-conscious and feel better in their interactions with others, be they family, friends, or strangers. Clothes are easier to shop for and fit more naturally, and there is an overall sense that they have returned to “normal” life.
Fat transfer does have a few downsides though. For one thing, the grafts have to be taken from the patient’s tummy or flanks.
This is because abdominal fat is a close match for breast tissue, so it will feel like a real breast. While this ‘added lipo’ is a blessing for a lot of people, things can be a little different for some patients – if they have often faced rigorous medication, they may have lost weight and not have much fat left to graft. Another challenge in fat grafting is even if the patient has plenty of fat to harvest, it may not be enough to get the cup size they want.
And if the patient would like their breast sizes to match, they have to be willing to reduce the size of their healthy breast. Some women do not want any kind of breast reduction, so for this reason, fat transfer is often used in tandem with implants during breast reconstruction surgery.
Once the choice of breast reconstruction material has been selected, the site of the implant has to be prepared. Because of the tissue damage caused by mastectomy, cancer survivors often have no breast tissue, skin, or muscle at the point of extraction. For this reason, skin and muscle have to be grafted as part of the surgery.
During your consultation with Dr Rizk, he will thoroughly discuss all of the options with you and help you choose the reconstruction plan that is right for your situation and needs. Important factors to take into consideration include the type of mastectomy you had, your cancer treatments, and your body type. Making sure you are comfortable and fully understand the procedure is of utmost importance to Dr Rizk at every stage of your process.
This is, even more, key for cancer survivors. Throughout their treatment, they put all their energy into getting better. Once they beat the beast, they might focus more on their friends and families, helping them to recover from the ordeal that they have all just shared.
It’s often a little while before their focus shifts back to themselves, because most women are naturally nurturing and they don’t quite know how to put themselves first. Dr Rizk understands that for women breast surgeries aren’t just about having a nice chest or getting a beach-ready body. It’s not just ornamental, it’s central to their feeling of femininity.
If you’re a survivor that has finished her treatment, you have already restored your health, so now may be the time to restore your physical appearance.
Some survivors do things in tandem, having their new breasts reconstructed in the same operation that extracts the old ones. This is the exception though, as most patients prefer to wait and focus on the psychological aspects of healing. When they’re working on breast reconstructions, Sydney surgeons use the same tools and methods that they use in breast implants. This means they can insert saline implants, silicone implants, or fat grafts. For cancer survivors, fat grafts are the most popular because they are the least likely to cause an allergic reaction.
The cells of cancer patients are already sensitive, so using a part of the patient’s own body to heal them is less likely to trigger a relapse. Incidentally, breast reconstruction is possible even if the survivor had previously received radiotherapy. Good candidates for breast reconstruction are otherwise in good health and don’t have any other significant health issues, diseases, or infections. They also fully understand the procedure and have realistic expectations.
Procedures will vary depending on the type of reconstruction surgery you will undergo: breast implant surgery, fat transfer surgery, or flap surgery.
For implant or fat transfer surgery, the process will begin by preparing the skin for implants. There are two ways to do this. One is to extract some muscle from the patient’s back and use it to anchor the patient’s new breast. The muscle will cover the implant, just like the pectoral muscle would in a healthy patient.
Option two is to stretch the skin on the patient’s chest then place the implant under the stretched skin. This method is less invasive, but it takes far longer because a surgical balloon has to be placed under the skin, and then the patient will visit the clinic periodically so that the doctor can gradually inflate the balloon. Once the skin is sufficiently expanded, an implant can be inserted. Skin expansion usually takes around three months.
A sub-option is applicable in cases where the patient is getting a transplant made of abdominal fat. In such scenarios, the surgeon can harvest a tummy flap that includes fat, skin, and muscle, then graft it as a comprehensive implant.
On the day of surgery, you will be placed completely under anesthesia. Dr Rizk will then begin the procedure, either harvesting the skin and tissue graft or preparing your chest to receive implants. During the process, Dr Rizk will completely rebuild the breasts, including the reconstruction of the nipple-areola complex.
This process usually takes several hours depending on the complexity of the surgery, but most patients can go home following the procedure and do not need to stay in the hospital overnight. However, you will need someone to pick you up and drive you home as well as help you and monitor your condition in the first few days of your recovery.
Recovery will begin when Dr Rizk discharges you from the clinic. You should have a family member or friend take you home and stay with you for the first 24-48 hours after your surgery. Dr Rizk will have applied bandages to your chest and any other affected areas, and you can expect swelling and tenderness in those places. You will likely be prescribed pain and antibiotic medication and be given instructions on their use. It is very important that you follow these instructions to make your recovery as smooth as possible.
Because breast reconstruction surgery is so extensive and can affect several places on your body, Dr Rizk will provide you with advice on how to minimise discomfort while sleeping and doing other normal, day-to-day activities while you recover.
Know that these activities may be painful and difficult at first, but they will get easier and more comfortable as your body heals. In general, you will experience swelling, bruising, and tenderness for the first week or two and should avoid activities that involve things like reaching and lifting. According to Dr Rizk’s instructions, you should make sure to keep the surgery sites clean and bandaged appropriately. You may notice that your breasts change in size and/or shape slightly over the first month of recovery, but this is normal.
Any implants or transplanted tissue can be expected to shift and move somewhat as the swelling goes down and your body settles into its new, restored shape. Dr Rizk will also provide 24-hour contact information to be used should any urgent concerns arise, but contact emergency medical assistance immediately if you experience any extreme or life-threatening situations. Also, he will schedule follow-up appointments to check your progress and advise any further care.
While final results may take several months to be realised, you can expect your breast reconstruction surgery to leave you feeling more complete.
As your body heals, the swelling, bruising, and discoloration should subside by four weeks after surgery. The scars should become less and less prominent over several months, although they may never disappear completely. Skin sensation on and around your breasts is expected to be diminished significantly, but some of the feeling may return over time.
Some patients will need multiple procedures or additional care, depending on their specific situations. All of this will be outlined with Dr Rizk in the lead-up to your breast reconstruction surgery process. While your body will probably never feel the same as it did before your battle with cancer, having your feminine shape back can help lessen the emotional impact of your ordeal and make you feel like yourself again.
In terms of breast surgery performed in Sydney by Dr Joseph Rizk, he offers a variety of procedures. These include:
Learn more about Breast Reconstruction surgery in Sydney with a consultation with Dr Joseph Rizk
Dr Rizk has been through this amazing transformation with many patients, so he understands the physical, intellectual, emotional, psychological, and surgical components of this journey. He’s exactly the kind of surgeon that you want walking you through this transition. So call his clinic today on 1300 707 007 and book your appointment so he can work with you and bring back your inner butterfly.
Dr Rizk advocates the National Law and Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) guidelines that any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.Meet Dr Rizk
Dr Joseph Rizk became Australasia’s plastic surgeon of the year by making sure that each patient is heard, respected, and treated well. His patient-first approach provides you with the accurate medical information you need to make informed decisions about your course of treatment. At the same time, he offers his decades of knowledge and experience to help you along your path.