Since the breast is formed from your own tissue, and it looks, feels and behaves like a natural part of your body. Tissue flaps are often used by themselves to reconstruct the breast. In some cases, when there is not enough tissue, a flap can be combined with a breast implant to create more volume or projection.
At the Friedman Center, our surgeons specialize in the DIEP flap procedure, a highly specialized type of flap reconstruction that takes tissue from the abdomen. The DIEP flap offers women the benefit of a “tummy tuck” in addition to their new breasts.
In general, flap procedures are longer surgeries that require more recovery time than breast implant procedures. However, natural tissue reconstruction lasts for life. Implants can rupture, and eventually all implants need to be removed and replaced at the end of their lifespan.
Using your own tissue for breast reconstruction provides the most natural look and feel of any type of breast reconstructive surgery. Unlike breasts formed with implants, breasts made from natural tissue are warm and soft. They even behave like your own body—for example, the reconstructed breast will increase and decrease in size as you gain and lose weight. Click here to compare natural tissue vs. implant reconstruction.
In a free flap procedure, the tissue flap is completely separated from its original blood vessels and connected to a new blood supply in the chest. Free flap breast reconstruction requires microsurgery, which is done using a microscope. Tiny, microscopic blood vessels must be surgically connected to nourish the new breast with an adequate supply of blood. Most natural tissue procedures use the free flap method, which must be performed by highly specialized plastic surgeons.
The DIEP flap, which takes tissue from the abdomen to rebuild the breast, is one of the most advanced free flap procedures. The Friedman Center’s surgeons specialize in reconstruction using the DIEP flap.
In a pedicled flap, the tissue remains attached to its original blood vessels and is tunneled under your skin to the breast area. In both types of flaps, the tissue is formed into the shape of a breast and stitched into place.
Recovery from flap reconstructive surgery can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. The time needed for recovery varies from patient to patient, depending on the patient’s general health and level of physical activity. Most patients can return to work in 3-4 weeks and resume light exercise by 6 weeks. Complete healing can take from several months up to a year.
Additional (stage 2) surgery may be needed after the initial surgery to make your breasts as symmetrical as possible. Fat grafting (also called lipofilling) may be performed to give the breast a more natural appearance. Cosmetic sculpting procedures are usually far less invasive than the initial surgery. They’re often same-day surgeries and typically have much shorter recovery times.
There are a number of things to think about when choosing which breast reconstruction is right for you. Discuss your concerns and preferences with your plastic surgeon, who will let you know what your best options are.