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Breast reconstruction is surgery to make a new breast after removal of the breast or part of the breast. The aim is to make a breast of similar size and shape to your original breast. But they won’t be identical.

Types of reconstruction

The main ways of making a new breast include:

  • removing the whole breast and skin, and using an implant underneath the remaining skin
  • removing the whole breast, leaving skin behind, and using an implant (skin sparing mastectomy) 
  • using tissue taken from another part of your body
  • using your own tissue and an implant 

After reconstruction surgery you might consider more surgery to:

  • create a new nipple 
  • change the shape of your other breast to match

What to Expect After Breast Reconstruction Surgery

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It’s important to have an idea of what to expect after surgery to rebuild your breast, including the possible risks and side effects. The time it takes you to recover from surgery will depend on the type of reconstruction you have. Most women begin to feel better in a couple of weeks and can return to usual activities in a couple of months. Talk to your doctor about what you can expect. Be sure you understand how to take care of your surgery sites and how to follow up with your breast care, including regular mammograms and when they are needed depending on the surgery you have had.​

Possible risks during and after reconstruction surgery

Any type of surgery has risks, and breast reconstruction may pose certain unique problems for some women. Even though many of these are not common, it’s important to have an idea of the possible risks and side effects.

Some of the risks during or soon after surgery include:

  • Problems with the anesthesia
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Fluid build-up in the breast or the donor site (for a tissue flap), with swelling and pain
  • Infection at the surgery site(s)
  • Wound healing problems
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

Problems that can occur later on include:

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  • Tissue death (necrosis) of all or part of a tissue flap, skin, or fat
  • Loss of or changes in nipple and breast sensation
  • Problems at the donor site, such as loss of muscle strength
  • The need for more surgery to fix problems that come up
  • Changes in the arm on the same side as the reconstructed breast
  • Problems with a breast implant, such as movement, leakage, rupture, or scar tissue formation (capsular contracture)
  • Uneven breasts

Recovering after reconstruction surgery

You’re likely to feel tired and sore for a week or 2 after implant surgery, or longer after a flap procedure (which will leave you with 2 surgical wounds). Your doctor will give you medicines to help control pain and other discomfort.

Depending on the type of surgery you have, you will most likely be able to go home from the hospital within a few days. You may be discharged with one or more drains in place. A drain is a small tube that’s put in the wound to remove extra fluid from the surgery site while it heals. In most cases, fluid drains into a little hollow ball that you’ll learn how to empty before you leave the hospital. The doctor will decide when the drains can be safely removed depending on how much fluid is collecting each day. Follow your doctor’s instructions on wound and drain care. Also be sure to ask what kind of support garments you should wear. If you have any concerns or questions, ask someone on your cancer care team.