There have been many exciting advances in the area of plastic surgery, but one of the top achievements is the tissue flap surgery for breast reconstruction. With all of the celebrity makeovers in the news, this type of surgery is not as “glamorous”, but what it does is to give a woman back her symmetry and confidence following a mastectomy due to breast cancer.
Tissue flap surgery is a way to rebuild the shape of a breast using skin, fat, and muscle from another part of the body. In the 1970’s and 80’s, researchers were able to identify types of tissues with arterial and venous support that allows them to be transferred granting ingrowth of capillaries to establish a permanent blood supply.
History and Advances
The history of breast reconstruction dates back to the 1800s but has been perfected over the last three decades. This type of surgery was once berated but has evolved to become a routine makeover option for women undergoing breast cancer surgery. Breast reconstruction was developed with the goal of allowing women to feel confident in clothing and eliminate the need for an inconvenient and bulky prosthesis.
The way the initial mastectomy is performed has become an important factor in how successful the reconstructive surgery turns out. The surgical technique has changed from trying to eradicate the breast tissue to trying to spare the skin around the breast to aid in reconstruction. The use of this technique has resulted in better quality anterior chest wall skin for the flap to adhere to.
Types of Flap Procedures
There are two basic types of tissue flap procedures used: The pedicle flap and the free flap. A Pedicle flap means the flap of tissue from the back or belly is moved to the chest without cutting its original blood supply. The tissue is pulled under the skin up to the chest area and attached.
A Free flap means the tissue and blood vessels are cut. After the flap is in place, the surgeon sews the blood vessels in the flap to blood vessels in the chest area. As you can imagine, the free flap is a much more difficult surgery. With either of these reconstructive makeovers, it can recreate a breast that looks and feels very natural.
As far as the location the tissue is taken from, the typical areas are the belly, back, buttocks, and occasionally the upper thighs. There are multiple surgeries before it is finished and the typical recovery time for resuming regular activities is 3 to 6 weeks. This type of total makeover includes sufficient time, bandages, antibiotics, and pain killers but in the end, a woman is given back a feeling of normalcy to her life.