Nipple reconstruction is the final procedure after breast reconstructive surgery. It is performed once the breast has had time to heal. Some choose to have the procedure whilst others decide against it. Women considering nipple reconstruction should discuss the options available to them with their breast or plastic surgeon. Read on for more information about the various procedures.
Some women opt for surgery using tissue to reconstruct a nipple. At one time most tissue was taken from another part of the body such as the genital region. Today most surgeons use tissue from the surrounding area of the breast to fashion a new nipple. Small incisions are made into the area and the tissue is then elevated to form a nipple shape. Getting the surrounding skin to match the color and look as authentic as possible is a vital part of the process. The nipple can be colored to give a natural appearance using tattooing techniques. New 3D tattooing methods can add even more depth and color, too. Many breast reconstructive surgeons use a dermabrasion technique, in which a high frequency vibrating probe is used to push color and pigment into the skin. Several sessions may be necessary to achieve optimal appearance of the nipple. In general most nipple surgery is carried out as an overnight procedure in hospital and under local anesthetic. Your surgeon will be able to advise on the plan of care to reconstruct a nipple and add the coloring techniques.
Some women choose to not have further surgery following breast reconstruction and instead use a plastic or synthetic nipple. A plastic nipple can be placed on the reconstructed breast using a suction pad. These are semi erect in appearance and have a natural skin tone color.
Choosing to have a tattoo placed where the nipple would have been is becoming an increasingly common choice for women, with shapes such as a star or heart, in particular, proving to be popular. 3D nipple tattoos are an effective way of creating a natural looking appearance. This technique uses an oscillating set of needles coated with a pigment solution which is then inserted into the skin. As the reconstructed breast has no nerve sensation, the procedure is not painful. The tattoo creates a picture of a nipple which looks realistic. A variety of colors can be used and as the tattoo fades over time, the color can be touched up at intervals. Laser techniques can also be used to position the nipple so it is symmetrical with the other breast and in an optimal position.
For women considering nipple reconstruction there are several options available. Choosing a professional surgeon and tattooist is vital to achieving the best results. Many have years of experience with the techniques used in breast reconstruction and caring for people following cancer. There are also charitable resources with expert advisors who can connect people with patients who have experienced the procedures themselves. Taking time to consider each option, talking it over with a partner or friend, and working with a clinical expert are all effective ways of making the right decision for you. Breast reconstructive surgery is part of the cancer journey and nipple reconstruction can be an integral part of that pathway.