Best Life: Natural breast reconstruction, an alternative to implants

Updated: Jun. 11, 2020 at 6:33 AM CDT
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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. This year alone, 276,000 will be told they have it. For many, that means chemo, radiation and surgery. Now doctors have developed a new type of reconstruction surgery that’s totally natural.

Veda Jackson cuts and slices and watches closely what goes into her body these days.

She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She had chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy.

“At one point I was on like 13 different medications and I said, no, no more, no more,” Jackson shared.

When it came time for reconstruction surgery, she said no to implants. Christopher Reid, MD, a plastic surgeon at UC San Diego Health, gave her another option… a natural reconstruction, or DIEP flap.

“It's all your own tissue. There's no foreign body,” explained Dr. Reid.

A flap procedure uses a woman’s own tissue to rebuild her breasts.

“We'll use the abdominal tissue, the fat and the skin that we'd normally throw away in a tummy tuck and rebuild the breast with it,” continued Dr. Reid.

Blood vessels called deep inferior epigastric perforators, as well as the skin and fat connected to them, are removed from the lower abdomen and transferred to the chest.

“Once they're done, they're done for life as opposed to when you have an implant, you're going to have to have the implant service throughout the course of your life,” Dr. Reid stated.

But unlike implants, since there are two operation sites for flaps, the chest and the abdomen, the surgery can take several hours longer, and recovery can take one to two weeks more. But Dr. Reid said there is a lower risk of infection.

“You know, if I couldn't do the DIEP flap then I probably would have ended up just going flat because I had already had enough foreign stuff in me,” said Jackson.

Jackson believes going natural was the way to go for her and is ready to start her new and improved, cancer-free life.

There is also a flap procedure that can take the skin and fat from a person’s thigh to reconstruct the breast. That’s called a pap flap. Right now, the DIEP and pap reconstructed breast does not have any sensation. Dr. Reid said researchers have started to investigate connecting the nerves in the patient’s chest to the nerves that came out of their abdomen to give them a breast that has sensation.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.

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