Radiation treatment following a mastectomy in the treatment of breast cancer is fairly common. Though refinements have been made in the radiation therapy that have significantly reduced both short and long term sequelae to the skin and underlying tissues, permanent consequences nevertheless exist which will affect the tissue expander breast reconstruction.
What does radiation do to the skin and soft tissues? The ionizing effects damage healthy cells causing scarring and thickening with increased rigidity of the tissues and less suppleness. The result is firmer feeling skin that is more rigid and more resistant to the stretching which is necessary with tissue expansion breast reconstruction. The small blood vessels in the field of treatment are also permanently damaged resulting in a reduction of blood supply to the tissues. Less oxygen and nutrients available to the tissues translates into an increased the risk of infection, greater susceptibility to trauma and prolonged healing times from surgery and injury. .
As a consequence of these changes, it is far more difficult to expand irradiated tissue in facilitating the breast reconstruction as compared to normal tissue. The increase in size obtained may be less than ideally desired and it can take much longer. Qualitatively, it often feels firm and appears darker than the surrounding skin. There is also an increased incidence of infections, formation of scar tissue around the expander, separation of recently closed incisions and even extrusion and exposure of the tissue expander through the skin.
Though tissue expander breast reconstruction can yield satisfactory results in tissue that has been previously irradiated, there are many attendant risks that need to be considered before selecting this option.
If you would like to obtain additional information on breast reconstruction or any other surgical procedure that I perform or to schedule a consultation, you can contact my office at 480-451-3000.
Steven H. Turkeltaub, M.D. P.C.
Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona