Radiation and Breast Reconstruction

Board-Certified Plastic Surgeons Serving Denver, Lone Tree, Colorado & Nationwide

Woman after radiation and breast reconstruction Radiation therapy is increasingly being employed as a breast cancer treatment. It is a precise and effective way to destroy mutated cells and reduce recurrence risk. However, the delivery of radiation therapy can impact your breast reconstruction.

Although it is important to be aware of this relationship, know that many women have undergone successful breast reconstruction in the radiation setting. Talk to our board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeons about the options available in your unique situation.

Call 303-706-1100 today to schedule a consultation at The Breast Center Park Meadows Cosmetic Surgery. We serve Denver, Lone Tree, and other areas of Colorado. As leaders in the Rocky Mountain region, we also welcome patients who travel to our practice from across the country.

Impacts of Radiation                                                   

The use of radiation affects both the cancer as well as the surrounding normal tissues. The changes in healthy tissues after radiation can be profound, including:

  • Loss of elasticity
  • Decreased wound healing capabilities
  • Tissue thinning

Radiation therapy often precedes breast reconstruction. In these situations, the resulting tissue changes can pose a challenge for future cosmetic breast procedures. For example, it may not be possible to sufficiently expand scarred tissue after radiation.

Issues can also arise when radiation is administered after reconstruction. Because of this, our surgeons generally prefer to place a tissue expander after mastectomy and before a patient undergoes radiation. This approach maintains space in the breast until the therapy is complete, significantly increasing the success rate of subsequent reconstruction.

How Does Radiation Affect Implant Reconstruction?

Radiation therapy can affect the results and failure rates of any breast reconstruction. However, complication rates are particularly elevated in implant-based reconstructions.

Breast implants are foreign objects. When placed in the body, the implant becomes surrounded by a flexible capsule of scar tissue.

Issues arise when chest wall radiation causes the capsule to harden and contract. This condition is known as capsular contracture. It can cause your reconstructed breasts to be tight, hard, uncomfortable, or sit too high on your chest.

Possible Implant Problems and Failure

Smooth breast implants for reconstruction Capsular contracture is not the only concern for patients who undergo radiation and implant reconstruction. Other potential problems include:

  • Implant asymmetry
  • Visible implant rippling due to thin skin
  • Changes in breast size, position, or shape
  • Implant loss
  • Infection

Breast implant removal is usually required to remedy a failed breast reconstruction. Failed reconstruction can be a difficult experience, particularly if consecutive implant procedures continue to produce poor outcomes. Fortunately, our surgeons offer breast reconstruction revision to help you achieve a favorable result.

View before and after photos of breast reconstruction following failed implants.

Reasons to Consider Autologous Reconstruction After Radiation

Many plastic surgeons view autologous reconstruction (using a woman’s own tissues) as the optimal method for women with a history of radiation therapy. Though radiation therapy can affect the aesthetics and success of breast reconstruction, the use of more sophisticated flap techniques (such as DIEP flap) has demonstrated excellent success in achieving natural results.

With these considerations in mind, our surgeons are aware that there are situations where implants are the only choice for a patient undergoing radiation. Fortunately, there are ways to improve the success of implant procedures in the radiation setting, including placing a tissue matrix such as Alloderm® and performing the reconstruction in stages.

Learn More About Breast Reconstruction and Radiation

Receiving appropriate cancer treatments is incredibly important. If radiation is necessary, you should not lose hope regarding your breast reconstruction options.

An early consultation with one of our surgeons will allow your treatment to be carefully coordinated with the ideal method of breast reconstruction. Please contact us online or call 303-706-1100 to schedule a one-on-one appointment. We serve Denver, Lone Tree, and other areas of Colorado.