Skin & Nipple Sparing Mastectomy
Skin-nipple sparing mastectomy is a type of surgery that removes the breast tissue surrounding the tumor through a small incision below the nipple or under the breast. It leaves the breast skin and nipple, creating a skin envelope for reconstruction. This technique allows for a more natural looking immediate reconstruction and avoids additional scars on the breast. This type of surgery may be followed by an implant based or autologous reconstruction.
In patients with a large tumor, a skin-nipple sparing mastectomy is not often recommended. Your surgeon may feel that the tumor is too close to the skin or nipple and it may be too difficult to obtain clean margins when removing the tumor. During the operation, the surgeon will check the tissue underlying the nipple for cancer cells. If cancer is found, the nipple must be removed. This procedure is more often an option for women who have a small early stage cancer near the outer part of the breast, with no signs of cancer in the skin or near the nipple.
The method of reshaping the breast should always be tailored to the individual patient. The choice of reconstruction method depends largely on your personal preferences and the cancer treatment plan. Some patients will be able to have a plastic surgeon complete a breast reconstruction immediately after the surgeon removes the cancer, this is called immediate reconstruction and usually requires coordinating with two separate surgeons. A skin-sparing or a skin and nipple-sparing mastectomy will save enough breast skin for the plastic surgeon to cover the breast mound reconstruction. It may take more than one procedure to achieve the final desired aesthetic results.
Implant-based reconstruction is the most common method of breast reconstruction and flap based reconstruction is the second most common method used. Each breast reconstruction method has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of immediate reconstruction include: increased psychosocial well being; improved body image; improved sexual function; and patients may have a better cosmetic result because the skin envelope is preserved providing a similar shape as your natural breast. Disadvantages of immediate reconstruction include: a potential for delaying necessary chemotherapy due to complications of the reconstruction; radiation may affect the cosmetic result; some immediate reconstruction results in several nips and tucks; and there is an increased possibility of complications by combining two procedures into one procedure.
Immediate reconstruction procedures:
Expander to implant: A tissue expander is placed under some of the pectoral muscle at time of mastectomy. The expander is gradually filled with saline over several weeks stretching the skin and muscle to create a pocket for the permanent implant. In a second surgery, the expander is removed and the permanent implant is placed under the pectoral muscle. The expander may also be used to retain a skin envelope through any postmastectomy radiation therapy, since radiation often distorts the skin and can damage an implant or tissue flap. To achieve the best cosmetic result, some surgeons will recommend the staged approach, however, some surgeons may be very comfortable with placing the final implant immediately.
Direct to final implant: This option requires a surgeon comfortable with the final placement of the implant at the mastectomy surgery and generally only a select group of candidates are offered this option. A direct to implant reconstruction is well suited for women interested in downsizing their final breast size. Downsizing the final breast size can avoid undue tension on the mastectomy skin that increasing the breast size may cause. Too much tension on the mastectomy incision may cause complications such as a wound opening and exposure of the implant, requiring implant replacement and additional surgery. Acellular dermal matrix may offer some surgeons a solution to minimize any risk of wound opening. Acellular dermal matrix assimilates quickly in the body and provides an extra layer of tissue to protect the implant if the wound opens.
Direct to final implant with lat flap: The latissimus dorsi muscle is located on the back side of the body and can offer an alternative to acellular dermal matrix as a support for the implant. In a lat flap procedure a muscle from the back (latissimus dorsi), with connected skin, fat, and blood vessels, are passed through a tunnel under the skin to the chest to form a new breast or to shape the pocket for a breast implant. The transferred tissue remains attached to its original blood supply making the lat flap procedure less complicated than other flap procedures. Once the lat flap is brought from the back to the chest, it is stitched to the pectoral muscle to support the implant. The lat flap can also be used with a staged expander until the time of final implant procedure.
Advantages of lat flap: can act like acellular dermal matrix to protect the implant in immediate reconstruction; vessels remain connected so no reattachment is required, lessening the potential for vessel failure; no microsurgery is required, so less risk of flap failure; shorter procedure and hospital stay compared to other flaps.
Disadvantages of lat flap: scarring on the back; loss of lat muscle function (not significant but some patients notice when performing extreme activity such as rock climbing).
This type of reconstruction best fits patients with smaller body frames or insufficient tissue for other flaps, but who would like to have a one stage reconstruction direct to implant bypassing the expander stage, and who would like to avoid abdominal surgery.
Direct to flap: Some patients will prefer to use their own tissue rather than an implant for reconstruction. This may be the best option if there has been any past radiation to the chest, since radiated skin is often difficult to stretch. If radiation is needed it may be aesthetically beneficial to delay a flap reconstruction to minimize any tissue damage that could be caused by radiation.
Expander to flap: An expander is placed at the time of mastectomy. this approach is used when a flap reconstruction is planned for a later date.
Mastopexy: A procedure that can be completed at the same time as any breast surgery. In a mastopexy procedure, your surgeon will lift or reduce the opposing breast in order to create symmetry with the reconstructed breast.
Implant-Based Advantages: Less surgical time and recovery time; fewer scars; satisfactory shape in clothing.
Implant-Based Disadvantages: Many clinic appointments during the expansion process; two surgical procedures (tissue expander placement and implant placement); potential problems with implant including infection may require more surgery (this is rare, less than 5% and most will respond to antibiotics); often difficult to achieve appearance of a natural breast; visual or physical distortions such as capsular contracture, rippling or bursting; extremely thin skin may show the guideline features of the implants (used by surgeons for placement) and possibly pain are fairly common in patients undergoing reconstruction with implants; implants may need to be replaced periodically although most implants will last a lifetime. Implant-Based Reconstruction best fits a patient: no history of previous radiation to the breast or chest wall or will not need radiation as part of the treatment plan; does not have enough fatty tissue in stomach area for flap options; no desire for a tissue flap operation; has a good skin pocket/envelope for implant; minimal compromised tissue at the mastectomy site; prefers shorter surgical time and recovery times; wants a more perky (augmented) looking reconstruction; does not smoke.
Understanding skin-sparing and nipple-sparing mastectomies
Learn more about the difference between skin-sparing and nipple-sparing mastectomies, including the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Dr. D’s Mastectomy Rule of 3’s and Why Details Matter
Learn more about nipple-sparing mastectomies and what patients can expect during the recovery period.
Types of Mastectomies: What is nipple-sparing reconstruction? – Sonia Sugg, MD
Learn more about nipple-sparing mastectomies vs. conventional and skin-sparing.