In my profession, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the strongest and most inspiring women. In the face of breast cancer, these women carry themselves with courage and poise.

As a surgeon, I feel fortunate to further equip them with the latest advances in breast reconstruction.

Breast reconstruction can be an emotional and rewarding journey that helps a woman reclaim her feminine silhouette. “I didn’t want to let breast cancer define me. I wanted to be me again,” breast reconstruction patient Barbara Terry told me. “I felt like something was missing.”

Some women opt not to have their breasts reconstructed; however, studies have found that breast reconstruction can help boost a patient’s self-esteem.

The most vital component of any breast surgery is for the patient to be cancer free. Once the cancer has been successfully treated, the goal of breast reconstruction is to give the patient the best possible cosmetic result.

Several of the newest advances in breast reconstruction surgery are offering women a more efficient, less painful process with more consistent results.

One of these advances, known as acellular dermal matrix (ADM), is revolutionizing how plastic surgeons approach breast reconstruction cases.

ADM is a soft tissue substitute developed from donated human skin. It creates a supportive “breast hammock,” which allows the patient’s own cells to regenerate within the donated tissue. ADM allows patients to undergo a shortened reconstructive course after mastectomy.

Direct-to-implant is the newest implant-based technique in breast reconstruction, and it is a one-step approach that can take a woman from mastectomy to reconstructed breast mound in one surgery.

The benefits of immediate breast reconstruction following mastectomy include less cost, less anesthesia and sparing the patient the emotional shock of waking up without a breast.

Nipple and areola reconstruction is often the final step in a woman’s breast reconstruction journey, a step that is now easier to pursue than ever. A simple permanent makeup procedure can recreate the appearance of natural areola and nipples without the need for additional surgery.

This highly specialized practice of medical tattooing restores a natural look and color to the nipple-areolar complex. A certified permanent makeup artist can create a 3-D nipple to give the “illusion of protrusion.”

“It makes me feel like I have a breast again,” Terry said. “It was a blank canvas, and with the tattooing, I feel more like a woman now.”

Every woman’s diagnosis and situation is different, and with so many options available, patients should meet with a plastic surgeon before mastectomy to learn about the reconstruction options available to them.

This can give patients the confidence they need to move forward with a highly effective, multi-faceted treatment plan.

Dr. Audrey Klenke, the area’s only female plastic surgeon, is the owner of Pinnacle Plastic Surgery. She is a member of the medical staff at both Beaufort Memorial Hospital and Hilton Head Hospital.