Breast Reconstruction Complications and Risks

There are risks with all surgeries, including breast reconstruction. This surgery restores the look and feel of your natural breasts with breast implants or via a flap procedure. Sometimes fat grafting to the breast is also an option. Your personal breast reconstruction risk profile varies based on the reasons for the procedure as well as the specific techniques used to reconstruct your breast(s).

In general, breast reconstruction risks include:

  • Anesthesia complications
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Unfavorable scarring
  • Asymmetry of the breasts (one or both breasts may be reconstructed)
  • Loss of sensation (temporary or permanent)
  • Lymphedema (swelling in the arm)
  • Infection
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Deep venous thrombosis (a blood clot). Blood clots can travel to the lung where they may cause a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism.
  • Dissatisfaction with the cosmetic results

In addition to these potential complications, some women may experience emotional changes, including anxiety or depression.

Many women opt for breast reconstruction after surgery to treat breast cancer. These women may worry that their new breast might mask a return of the breast cancer, but this is not a likely scenario.

Breast Reconstruction Risks: Flap vs. Implants

Flap reconstruction procedures — in which tissue from other parts of your body is used to reconstruct your breast — can result in donor site complications, including abdominal hernias and muscle damage or weakness. There may also be a risk of tissue death (necrosis) in all or part of the flap. Flap reconstruction surgery also confers a risk of loss of sensation at both the donor and reconstruction sites. If your reconstruction is done using implants, you may experience any of the breast implant surgery risks, such as breast firmness (capsular contracture), implant rupture, double bubble, implant displacement or bottoming out.

Make sure you discuss your personal risk profile with your surgeon, and follow your doctor’s pre- and postoperative instructions carefully. Getting up and walking as soon as is feasible after your surgery can help lower your risk of developing a blood clot in your leg, because walking helps boost circulation. Also, knowing what to be on the lookout for during your breast reconstruction recovery can help reduce your risk of other complications. For example, watch for signs of infection, including a temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, pain, chills and redness of the entire breast.

Choosing a Breast Reconstruction Surgeon

The best way to minimize your risks and ensure a smooth breast reconstruction recovery is to choose a board-certified plastic surgeon to perform your breast reconstruction. If your procedure is being performed due to a breast cancer diagnosis, your surgeon should be part of a team that includes a gynecologist, radiologist, breast surgeon and oncologist. Start your search for the appropriate surgeon now.

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    Ronald H. Schuster, MD

    10807 Falls Road, #100
    Baltimore, MD 21093
    (800) 572-1096
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    Joshua A. Greenwald, MD, FACS

    Greenwald Plastic Surgery
    166 5th Ave
    Second Floor
    New York City, NY 10010
    (914) 421-0113
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    Arnold S. Breitbart, MD

    Arnold S. Breitbart, MD
    700 Park Avenue
    New York, NY 10021
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