The idea of nipple reconstructoion is a strange concept, on the face of it: for the vast majority of your life, they’re just…there. They have an enormously important role for a year or so when breastfeeding, obviously, but for most of the time they’re not exactly something that you’re going to show off.
If you’ve undergone a mastectomy, however, and are looking at a breast reconstruction procedure, they suddenly become extremely important. Sure, they’re not going to do the job your original nipples could, but not having them there can make a woman’s appearance feel incomplete. Fortunately, there’s a procedure that can remedy that: nipple reconstruction surgery.
Where do the ‘new’ nipples come from?
Usually from the skin of the reconstructed breast, which are cut out as what is known as ‘arrow’ or ‘star’ flaps, and remodelled into the suitable shape. The areola can be reconstructed by removing a piece of darker skin from another part of the body – such as the inner thigh – and grafted onto the breast, and – if necessary – the new graft can be re-coloured with tattooing.
In cases where one nipple needs to be constructed, such as after a single mastectomy, a new nipple and areola can be created from removing half of the existing one.
What does the operation involve?
Usually carried out under local anaesthetic, the nipple reconstruction procedure takes 30 to 45 minutes. Your practitioner will mark the area where the new nipples will be, and take skin from that area. The area is then reshaped and sutured.
What do I need to do after the procedure?
You will be given a nipple shield – a protective cover for the treated area – which you will be advised to keep on for three days. When removed, the new nipple will probably appear bigger than normal. This is nothing to worry about: after the sutures are removed three weeks later, the nipple will flatten out and look more natural.
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