Breast reconstruction is often done after a mastectomy performed to treat breast cancer. In many cases, breast implants are used to replace tissue that was removed during surgery and restore shape and volume to the breasts. However, implants are not a woman’s only option for breast reconstruction surgery.
Using Her Own Tissue for Breast Reconstruction
Instead of relying on implants, a woman may elect to use her own tissue during reconstruction. This technique is known as a flap procedure and transplants tissue from one part of the woman’s body, such as the stomach or buttocks, onto the chest. A flap procedure may produce more natural-looking results and allows women to avoid the potential side effects of implants.
There are two types of flap procedures commonly used during breast reconstruction.
- Tunneling procedure. The harvested tissue is removed with its original blood supply still attached. It’s attached at the new site by the surgeon “tunneling” under the skin.
- Free-flap procedure. The harvested tissue is removed without the original blood supply. When it is transplanted to the reconstruction site, the tissue is attached to the blood supply that is already in the area.
In general, flap procedures are more complicated than breast implant surgeries. A longer hospital stay is required and there may be a scar at the site of the harvested tissue, although steps are usually taken to minimize the appearance of any scarring. Despite these issues, a flap procedure is still a very viable option for breast reconstruction surgery, especially for woman who are not comfortable with the idea of having implants or other foreign materials in their body.