October marks the month for breast cancer awareness. It is important to raise awareness of this disease so that we can be better equipped with the knowledge to help and support others. With the help of SW1 Clinic, we asked Dr Chia Hui Ling, a consultant plastic surgeon who specialises in breast cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, questions of breast reconstruction as a means to support breast cancer patients.
Let us take a dive into breast reconstruction and understand how this procedure can be beneficial for these patients:
What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is a group of surgeries dedicated to rebuilding the breast after the breast tissues are removed from cancer surgery (mastectomy). It is a form of plastic surgery, but it is considered a medical reconstructive surgery and not a cosmetic surgery.
Often, in breast-conserving surgery, only the affected portion of the breast is removed. No reconstruction is required if the excised portion is proportionately small. For larger excisions, partial reconstruction may be offered and this is known as oncoplastic surgery.
Are implants the only way to reconstruct the breasts?
In breast reconstruction, there are two types of breast reconstruction: implants and autologous reconstructions. In autologous reconstruction, the breast can be restored using tissues transferred from other parts of the body, such as excess tummy tissues. This tissue transferred is known as a flap.
Do breast implants cause cancer?
There is no evidence that breast implants increase the risk of cancer. Moreover, breast implants are used for reconstruction after breast cancer surgery. Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is rarely associated with macrotextured implants, which is now no longer approved in Singapore.
I did not have reconstruction after my mastectomy, can I still have my “breast” back?
Although breast reconstruction is mostly performed at the same time as breast cancer surgery, you have not missed the boat. Delayed reconstruction can still be performed to rebuild the breast years after breast cancer surgery.
Is it possible to avoid scars after breast reconstruction?
Scars are the aftermath of skin incisions placed during surgery which are unavoidable. However, modern options of incision placement in suitable patients, such as along the underbust crease, helps to leave a more inconspicuous scar. The appearance of scars can be further improved by techniques such as fat transfer, laser treatment and scar revision.
Dr Chia is also the co-founder and current president of Breast Reconstruction Awareness Singapore (BRAS), a non-profit organisation established since 2013 to raise awareness in breast cancer reconstruction. BRAS provides support and reliable resources relating to breast reconstruction for women in Singapore.