What complications from nipple reconstruction should I expect?

I had reconstruction surgery almost a year ago and a symetrisation surgery for the other breast soon after, and now I'm finally ready to have my nipple reconstruction surgery. I'm worried about the complications that may arise after having to deal with a severe post-mastectomy infection. I'd really like to avoid any situation similar to this one. Do I have anything to worry about?


F, 53, Utah

Tags:woman age 45-54 nipples infection mastectomy complications

I had to undergo nipple reconstruction a couple of years ago. I know that there are risks associated with any type of surgical procedure, but I wanted to make sure I fully understood what I was going to happen. I was lucky to find a doctor who was honest and walked me through what I should expect.

I was told that there is the possibility of complications. However, the chances of experiencing any of them are low. My doctor said that she would ensure that my skin was in a good, healthy condition before I had my reconstructive surgery. She did say that there was the chance that I could experience tissue breakdown. This occurs when the nipple doesn't get enough blood and the tissue dies. The second issue I might have had to deal with was nipple flattening. This happens when the nipple flattens out more than anticipated. I didn't experience any complications. I love the results of my nipple reconstruction.

I had reconstruction surgery done on both of my nipples a few years ago, and luckily, I came out just fine on the other side. Before I went under the knife, I talked with my doctor about possible risk factors from plastic surgery. He told me that there was a small possibility that my nipples could be heavily scared or heal in an irregular shape. He also warned that I could develop a post-surgery infection that would have to be treated. I feel the only side effect that I actually experienced was a lack of sensation that encompassed both of my breasts. I just couldn’t feel it as well when they were touched. The weird numbness disappeared after half a year. It was nothing especially scary or bad, it was just a little strange.

You have been through a lot, so I understand your concern about the risks involved with nipple reconstruction. Unfortunately, with most procedures, there are risks involved. Some of the risks involved with nipple reconstruction include permanent scarring, infection, tissue death and nerve damage. There is also the risk of the reconstructed nipple becoming flattened. If your nipple reconstruction is performed by an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon, that can certainly decrease your chances of having problems. Also, I have read that women who have had radiation therapy are at increased risk for complications. I have had nipple reconstruction, and I am pleased with my new nipples and feel that the benefits certainly outweighed the risks. You should definitely talk with your surgeon about your concerns regarding nipple reconstruction.

Fortunately, nipple reconstruction surgery isn't as invasive as a mastectomy. When I got my breast reconstruction, I even had the option of just using local anesthetic instead of general anesthetic. From what I've heard, the risk of complications is a bit higher if you use a skin graft to rebuild the tissue or if your breast cancer was treated with radiation. The major complication is just that the breast tissue might break down, causing your nipple to flatten over time. When I was sent home, my doctor had me wear a surgical bra with these protector things that kept everything in place though. Thanks to the antibacterial cream I used, there wasn't any infection. I had a bit of crusting and flakiness due to the tattoo during reconstruction, but it wasn't too bad.

It sounds like you’ve been through a lot and I hope that you are doing well now. I opted for 3D nipple tattooing because I have an immune disorder and my plastic surgeon didn’t think I should go through another surgery. What my doctor did tell me was that it’s rare to have any side effects or complications with nipple reconstruction. There are cases where the area gets infected but that’s a chance anytime you have to get surgery. The tissue can also break down and the nipple could go flat, or you might have scarring, but that’s it. Otherwise, as long as you’re fully recovered then you shouldn’t have problems.