Breast reconstruction surgery can help women deal with the diagnosis of breast cancer by restoring a sense of body wholeness. Federal law mandates breast reconstruction after mastectomy, including procedures done on the opposite breast to improve symmetry, be covered by health plans.

The most popular technique for reconstruction is to use implants. Initially, a tissue expander is inserted to gradually stretch the breast skin and pectoralis muscle over the course of a few months. Nipple and areola reconstruction is usually performed later if a traditional mastectomy has been performed.

Over the past several years, nipple-sparing mastectomy has become an option for a limited number of women (depending on oncologic and reconstructive criteria). The scarring from expander/implant reconstruction is identical to that from mastectomy alone. Women usually spend one night in the hospital and recovery takes 2-3 weeks.

Other options for reconstruction include the use of a back muscle (latissimus dorsi) flap or lower abdominal skin, fat and muscle (TRAM) flap. Your plastic surgeon will discuss the merits and details of each type of reconstruction and help you make your decision.