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Spotlight on breast reconstruction surgery

This October for breast cancer awareness month we are turning the spotlight on the complexities of breast reconstruction surgery and demystifying some of the latest procedures that are helping patients to recover faster than ever.

With October marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month we had a chat to Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon Dr Vlad Illie about some of the cutting edge procedures that can empower and support women and men who undergo mastectomies and reconstruction.

Dr Illie specialises in state-of-the-art breast reconstruction procedures which use the own patient’s tissue to reconstruct what is lost in mastectomies.

According to Dr Illie there are a number of procedures which use this strategy, however the DIEP Flap is considered one of the most advanced forms of breast reconstruction available today.

It involves the removal of skin, fat and tissue from the belly to restore the breast shape and volume while preserving abdominal muscles and nerves.

“This procedures results in less pain, faster recovery, better core strength long-term and lower risk of abdominal complications.

“When possible this type of surgery can allow for sensory nerves to be connected to which can help to recover sensation in the reconstructed breast.

“In our unit at Gosford Private Hospital, we have a high percentage of immediate reconstructions, which are performed at the same time as the mastectomy.

“This provides the best cosmetic result, minimises scarring and helps to preserve the natural breast skin and nipples with oncologically safe.

“Most importantly patients avoid the trauma associated with a flat chest and wake up from surgery feeling complete."

According to Dr Illie a diagnosis of breast cancer does not mean that women have to live with aesthetically devastating results following breast cancer surgery.

“No woman should have to endure this, the fight against cancer is stressful enough as it is and its important patients talk to their surgeon openly and honestly about the whole range of options available.

“Every journey is different, so there is no single right approach to breast construction, there are other procedures such as SIEA Flap, TUG Flap, PAP Flap, Fat Grafting, nipple sparing mastectomy and lymphedema surgery.

“There are a great many myths out there and it’s important to dispel these, including those associated with age and weight, some may think they aren’t a good candidate because they are too old or too thin to be a candidate.

“This is simply not the case, whilst it’s true that not having a great deal of abdominal fat may exclude you from having a DIEP flap, there are other areas that can be used including inner thighs and buttocks.”

Common breast reconstruction questions:
Q: How long does surgery take?

A: Surgery for bilateral reconstruction takes six to eight hours (including bilateral mastectomies)

Q: What is the failure rate of these surgeries?

A: These are less than 1%

Q: What team is involved in the procedure?

A: We have a standardised sequence and a large surgical team looking after patient on the day, including breast surgeon, two plastic surgeons and two to three surgical assistants.

Q: Is there scarring?

A: The horizontal abdominal scar that results following DIEP surgery is similar to that of those created by a ‘tummy tuck’. The scar that results on the breast will depend on the technique used for mastectomy.

Q: How long is recovery?

A: Most patients stay four to six days after surgery and start to mobilise with support from physiotherapy team from day two. Usually within two to three weeks most people can return to driving and low impact work and home jobs by week three.

About Dr Vlad Illie

After completing his specialty surgical training in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in Sydney, Dr Illie has worked alongside internationally renowned plastic surgeons and pioneers in breast surgery and microsurgical reconstruction during his sub-specialty fellowships In Oxford and Stuttgart. His mission is to help women fighting breast cancer, or undergoing risk-reducing preventative mastectomy, restore their bodies and their lives. The aim of any reconstruction should be to achieve a natural-looking and feeling result. Learn more about him here: Gosford Private Hospital – Dr Vlad Illie