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What Type Of Breast Implants Are Best After A Mastectomy?

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Over the past few years, a number of female celebrities have opened up about their choice to have one or both breasts removed after learning that they had a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. In many cases, these celebrities made the announcement only because their reconstructive surgery had been so successful that no one would have otherwise suspected they had implants. However, the thought of undergoing a second operation after treatment for breast cancer can be intimidating. What types of breast implants are ideal for reconstructive surgery after breast cancer? Read on to learn about the best types of implants for post-cancer patients and what you can expect after making your choice.

When should you schedule your reconstructive surgery?

It is important to be in the best possible health before your surgery -- general anesthesia can cause problems if you have respiratory issues, an occasional side-effect of radiation. Be sure to consult with your oncologist before scheduling a reconstructive operation with a plastic surgeon to make sure your current health will allow a complication-free operation.

On the other hand, if you are planning your surgery fairly soon after the mastectomy, the surgeon will be able to leave more excess skin, allowing the implant to look more natural. 

What types of implants are available?

There are three types of breast implants available today -- silicone, saline, and gel. Silicone is a type of gel that is similar in weight and behavior to human fat, and is encapsulated in a rubbery shell. Saline is a saltwater solution used to fill a plastic-based capsule. Gel implants are a more recent addition to the implant market, and are similar to silicone implants in look and feel, but use a lighter, water-based gel.

Any of these implants can be successful in someone who has had a mastectomy -- however, your final choice will likely depend on a few aspects of your body.

  • Silicone
    • Because silicone implants tend to look more natural than saline implants on thin or small-framed women, many doctors will recommend these implants to thin women or women without much excess skin in the breast area.
    • However, in rare cases silicone implants can have a "silent rupture" -- the implant's capsule may rupture, but because the silicone remains in the same location, this rupture can only be detected using MRI.
      • Saline implants have a similarly low rupture rate, but this rupture becomes more obvious as the saline is absorbed into the body's tissues and the breast begins to deflate.
    • If your doctor has recommended annual or biannual screens to detect the presence of any cancer cells, silicone implants may be the best choice, as the very low risk of rupture can be completely minimized by the use of preventative screening.
  • Saline
    • Saline implants are ideal for women who are heavier or still have some excess skin in the breast area. 
    • Because these implants are inserted through a small slit in the breast tissue and then inflated after it has been securely positioned, it is easier for a surgeon to determine the correct implant size for your frame.
    • However, if (against the odds) the implant ruptures, you'll need to have it removed and replaced.
      • In some cases, the rupture of a silicone breast implant will not require surgery.
  • Gel
    • The advantages and disadvantages of gel implants are substantially similar to those of silicone implants.
    • Because not all surgeons offer this option, you may need to specifically seek a practice that has demonstrated experience in gel implants.

During your consultation with a plastic surgeon, you'll be given the option to hold and feel each of the implants offered, to help you make your selection. It is likely that your doctor will recommend a specific course of action based on the factors above, but the final choice is always yours.