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Breast Reconstruction with Implants

Your surgeon can help you decide whether to have reconstructive surgery. You will be advised to wait if now is not the best time for you. For instance, you may be advised to wait if you need radiation treatments after surgery. 

Cross section of breast showing tissue expander after mastectomy.
A tissue expander stretches the muscle and skin to make room for an implant.
Breast reconstruction can be performed at the same time as the mastectomy procedure, or it can be delayed until a later time. One kind of reconstruction is the breast implant. A breast implant is a fluid-filled shell inserted during surgery to reform the shape of the breast.

Inserting a tissue expander

Usually the breast area is prepared for a breast implant with a tissue expander, an empty implant shell that is inserted during surgery. The tissue expander is slowly filled with fluid over several weeks to stretch the chest skin and muscle to make room for a breast implant.

The tissue expander can be inserted through the same incision (cut) as the mastectomy. About once a week, fluid is injected into the tissue expander through a metal port. When the muscle and skin are stretched enough, the expander is replaced with an implant.

Placing the implant

Most breast implants are shells filled with fluid. To insert the implant, a small incision is made, often through the mastectomy scar. The implant is placed under your chest muscle. Recovery may take 3 to 6 weeks. You may have more surgery later to create a nipple and an areola. Surgery may also be needed to match your remaining breast to the reconstructed one. Expect the reconstructed breast to be firmer than your normal breast.

Risks of breast implant

Any type of surgery carries some risk. Patients differ in their anatomy and their ability to heal. Some problems related to breast reconstruction with implants include:

  • Bleeding

  • Fluid collection the surgical area

  • Anesthesia problems (problems with the medicines used to do the surgery)

  • Bruising and swelling

  • Implant problems

  • Infection

  • Muscle weakness

  • Scar tissue

  • Increased complications in smokers

The most common problem of breast reconstruction done with implants is called capsular contracture. This is when the scar or capsule around the implant begins to tighten. In some cases, this (and other) problems are severe enough to need a second operation.

Note to smokers

Cross section of breast showing implant after mastectomy.
Breast implants are placed under the chest muscle.
Do not smoke at least 3 to 4 weeks before and 1 to 2 weeks after your procedure. Smoking can interfere with the healing process. Ask your healthcare provider for help quitting.

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.