Breast reconstruction is a surgical procedure to rebuild the breast after a mastectomy. While a reconstructed breast will not look or feel exactly as it did before surgery, the goal is to create a breast that looks and feels as natural as possible.

There are two main types:

  • Implant reconstruction. The surgeon first places a tissue expander (an empty implant that's filled over several weeks to create space for the permanent implant). Later, in a separate procedure, the expander is replaced with a permanent implant. The permanent implant may be filled with either silicone gel or saline (salt water).
  • Autologous reconstruction (also called free tissue transfer or free flap). The surgeon takes tissue (skin, fat, blood vessels and sometimes muscle) from another area of the body and uses it to rebuild the breast.

Some women combine autologous reconstruction with an implant to get the breast size they want.

Whether to have breast reconstruction is a personal choice. You don't need to decide right away. Some reconstruction patients begin the process when they have their mastectomy, while others wait months or even years.

If you're considering reconstruction, you may find it helpful to speak with other patients about their experiences through our peer support programs. You can also find books, articles and patient stories about breast reconstruction at the UCSF Patient and Family Cancer Support Center.