Radiation and Breast Reconstruction

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

Radiation therapy is being employed as a part of the overall treatment of breast cancer in growing numbers of patients. Ultimately, the use of radiation therapy will be determined by medical, surgical and radiation oncologists based on each woman’s specific tumor type.

When radiation is used it affects both the cancer as well as the surrounding normal tissues. The changes in the normal tissues after radiation can be profound, with loss of elasticity, limitations of wound healing and limiting the esthetic outcome of breast reconstruction.

How Does Radiation Impact Reconstruction?

Though radiation can significantly impact the esthetic results and failure rates of any breast reconstruction, these complication rates are particularly elevated in implant-based reconstructions. Whether radiation is administered before or after reconstruction, women with implants have significantly higher complication rates.

We have a Before & After Gallery dedicated to displaying photos who of patients who originally had implants placed for reconstruction. Over time and after radiation, they needed another solution and opted for autologous reconstruction at The Breast Center Park Meadows Cosmetic Surgery. 

Why Autologous Reconstruction?

Because of the high complication rates in the setting of radiation and implant-based reconstruction, 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 esthetics and success of breast reconstruction, the use of more sophisticated flap techniques (DIEP, SIEA, SGAP and TUG) have demonstrated excellent success in achieving natural results.

Radiation may also affect the timing of reconstruction. Some women who wish to use their own tissue for reconstruction (autologous reconstruction) may need to have delayed reconstruction. In other instances, a temporary tissue expander can be placed at the time of mastectomy to hold the space while radiation occurs. This tissue expander can be removed after radiation is completed and the patient can move forward with autologous reconstruction (i.e. staged DIEP flap reconstruction).

Appropriate treatment of the cancer is of paramount importance. If radiation is necessary to treat the cancer, women should not feel a loss of hope regarding their options in breast reconstruction.

An early consultation with one of our surgeons will allow a woman’s treatment to be carefully coordinated with the most appropriate form of breast reconstruction. Please contact us online or call 303-706-1100 to schedule a one-on-one appointment.