Breast Reconstruction

For patients who require a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast), there are new techniques in reconstructive surgery to restore the breast’s appearance. Surgery can reconstruct a breast, including the size, shape, nipple and areola. The initial reconstruction work can often can be performed immediately following the mastectomy, while you are still sedated, and is performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon. Additional surgeries to complete reconstruction are scheduled at a later date.

UC San Diego: A leader in breast reconstruction

 Women undergoing reconstruction after
mastectomy for breast cancer
 UC San Diego  71.7%
 Southern California sample  29.2% - 40%
 National sample  36.3%

See supporting data

At UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, more than 70% of women who undergo a mastectomy also undergo reconstruction, high above the state and national rates.

Why are reconstruction rates important?

Post-mastectomy reconstruction rates are used as a quality of care measure in many comprehensive breast centers. Why?  

  • Reconstruction after mastectomy has been associated with improved psychosocial and sexual function.
  • It has been proven safe in terms of monitoring for recurrence, and preliminary data shows that it may even translate to better survival rates (although the reasons for this are not yet clear).
  • Higher reconstruction rates also point to a cancer center with comprehrensive services and close collaboration between your breast cancer surgeons and reconstruction experts

Reconstructive Surgery Explained

For information on how each surgery is performed, or the differences between implants and autologous surgery, see What Happens During Reconstructive Surgery.

Types of Breast Reconstruction

At UC San Diego, breast reconstruction can be accomplished in two ways:

  • Artificial implants: New cohesive gel implants are anatomically shaped and offer new options for reconstruction.
  • Autologous surgery: This method uses your own skin, fat and muscle from other areas of your body such as the back, abdomen, buttocks or area close to the chest. The two types we most commonly perform are:
    • Latissimus dorsi reconstruction, which uses muscle from your back to create a new breast mound)
    • Transverse rectus abdominus muscle (TRAM) flap, which uses muscle from from your abdomen

Contralateral symmetry surgery is performed on the unaffected breast, when needed, to assure a uniform size and shape.

Surgical Collaboration Improves Outcomes

At Moores Cancer Center, our surgeons collaborate closely to coordinate cancer and reconstructive surgeries. Dr. Anne Wallace, center director, is both a surgical oncologist and a reconstructive surgeon, and often performs the surgeries simultaneously. In other cases, surgical oncologist Dr. Sarah Blair partners with Dr. Amanda Gosman or other trained plastic surgeons to coordinate the effort.

In all cases, plastic surgeons are closely involved in surgery planning—to ensure a high level of safety in terms of the ability to resect the tumor and get an aesthetically pleasing outcome. Even for lumpectomies, plastic surgeons work with the oncology surgeon to help with markings so that the incisions fall into the natural reconstructive planes. All the necessary tissue is removed, but by preserving a good portion of the breast, it is often possible to preserve nipple sensation and prevent the nipple from being crooked.

New Developments for Faster Healing, Less Scarring

One of UC San Diego's areas of expertise is complex flap reconstruction after radiation. Use of hyperbaric oxygen and other treatments also enhance healing and outcome. Dr. Wallace and the entire surgical team spend adequate time with patients to review their options and preferences and to explain the risks, benefits and projected outcomes of various procedures.


Reconstruction rate data: UC San Diego: 2002-2011 reconstruction rate (Baker et al. Am Surg. 2013). Southern California sample: 2003-2007 reconstruction rate in four counties (Los Angeles, San Bernadino, Orange, Riverside) was 29.2%; including only those hospitals with a Comprehensive Cancer Center, 40% (Kruper et al. Ann Surg Onc. 2011). National sample: 2009 reconstruction rates from the National Inpatient Sample (Yang et al. Cancer. 2013)