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Poland’s Syndrome

What Is Poland’s Syndrome?


Poland’s Syndrome is a rare congenital condition affecting the chest, breast, and sometimes the upper extremity (arm and hand) on one side of the body. Generally, the pectoralis major muscle is absent or underdeveloped, and the overlying breast is absent, small or misshapen. Males are three times more commonly affected than females, and the right side is affected twice as often as the left. Occasionally other anatomic features are present such as sternum or rib anomalies, and Poland’s syndrome can occasionally be associated with other congenital syndromes.

As breast asymmetry develops during puberty, young women seek cosmetic correction of their breast and chest wall. In fully developed women, there may be a smaller breast on the affected side, or absence of the breast altogether. The nipple and areola is often smaller and sits higher than the other side, or it may also be absent. The underlying chest wall is often depressed or misshapen, and the normal contour of the pectoralis major muscle is missing. Each of these features can potentially be corrected or improved by Plastic Surgery.

Most women seeking reconstruction are looking to reconstruct their breast and/or chest wall. Correction of Poland’s syndrome can include breast implant reconstruction, insertion of specialized pectoral implants, free flap reconstruction, nipple and areola reconstruction and other complimentary procedures to create symmetry where it is lacking and reconstruct a more normal chest wall contour.

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Who is a Good Candidate for Poland’s Syndrome Correction?

Correction of Poland’s syndrome is appropriate for both men and women. Good candidates for reconstruction related to Poland’s syndrome include individuals who are healthy, physically fit and of a normal body weight. Younger women should have finished puberty and have had stable breast size for at least a year before surgery.

Smokers, patients with diabetes, multiple medical problems or blood-clotting disorders are often not good candidates for reconstruction. Morbidly obese patients have a much higher rate of complications and are advised to achieve a more optimal weight prior to reconstructive surgery. Your past medical history and current medical status will be evaluated at your consultation. You may be asked to see your Primary Care Physician for a full physical examination and appropriate laboratory tests prior to being medically cleared for surgery.

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What Are the Options for Correction of Poland’s Syndrome?

Single-Stage Breast Implant Reconstruction

A breast implant is usually inserted to replace missing breast volume on the affected side. Traditional implant reconstruction involves two stages where a tissue expander is placed in one operation and a permanent implant is placed in a second procedure. However, a new technique that does not require tissue expanders as a preliminary step, provides the most natural looking results and enables breast reconstruction in a single operation is available as an exciting option for Poland’s syndrome patients in our practice.

A permanent, postoperatively adjustable breast implant is used to augment or create a natural breast form. It can be tailored as needed after surgery to suit a woman’s body, her curves, lifestyle and individual aesthetic goals. Many of the steps of surgery are the same as for breast cancer reconstruction. Please see our sections that describe Breast Implant Reconstruction and Breast Augmentation to learn all about breast implants and details b breast implant surgery to correct Poland’s syndrome.

Pectoral Implants

Specialized shaped implants designed to fill in the chest wall defect in Poland’s syndrome are available. Many men with Poland’s syndrome seek this option for reconstruction. Pectoral implants are made of silicone gel and are custom-ordered after a complete history, physical examination and detailed measurements are taken by your surgeon in our office. Insertion of a pectoral implant requires creation of a potentially large scar, usually beneath the breast area or in the armpit region. Because subcutaneous fat in the chest region is also missing, a pectoral implant may have a visible edge and look less natural than using the body’s own tissue.

Free Flap Breast and Chest Wall Reconstruction

Use of the body’s own tissue for reconstruction is called a “Flap”. A “Free Flap” is a specialized reconstructive procedure that transplants tissue from an area of excess to reconstruct the breast, chest wall depressions and any additional abnormalities or hollows in Poland’s syndrome.

Microsurgery offers exciting new options for Poland’s syndrome reconstruction using the body’s own tissue and avoiding the sacrifice of major muscles. Fatty tissue is taken from the tummy or the inner thigh area and Microsurgically transplanted to the chest region as a Free Flap. While traditional flaps from the tummy permanently sacrifice another major body muscle such as the TRAM flap; we do not recommend this procedure for our patients and instead offer muscle-sparing surgical options.

Innovative, state-of-the-art reconstruction methods for Poland’s syndrome include “Perforator Flaps” known as the DIEP flap, SIEA flap and TUG (inner thigh) free flap. These surgeries are only performed by specially-trained Reconstructive Microsurgeons with a great deal of experience in breast reconstruction. Please visit our Flap Reconstruction section to learn more about these superior options for correction of Poland’s syndrome.

Latissimus Dorsi Flap Reconstruction

A traditional method for Poland’s syndrome chest wall correction is the Latissimus dorsi (LAT) flap. The Latissimus is the largest muscle in the body and is used in almost all activities of daily living. In Poland’s syndrome, because the major chest muscles on the front (Pectoralis major and occasionally Pectoralis minor) are already missing, to additionally sacrifice another major muscle from the back can increase potential weakness and deformity of the trunk, and makes little sense! For this reason, the LAT flap is not usually recommended.

Nipple and Areola Reconstruction

If the nipple and areola is absent or malformed, a new nipple prominence and an areolar circle can be reconstructed. Nipple reconstruction can be done at the same time as breast correction or occasionally is performed as a second outpatient procedure 3-6 months later. Please see our section on Nipple Surgery for additional details about nipple-areolar reconstruction.

Free Fat Grafting (“Lipofilling”)

Occasionally, free fat grafting (also known as “lipofilling”) can help to fill in contour defects above the breast in the upper chest region, where the pectoralis major muscle is missing. Fat can be taken (“harvested”) from one area of the body using a Liposuction wand and vacuum and is transferred to fill in an area that is not corrected by traditional reconstructive methods (for instance, above a breast implant below the clavicle, or collarbone). Fat grafting is only used in special reconstructive situations and is generally not recommended in routine cosmetic procedures.

When fat is transferred by lipofilling, some of the fat will survive and some cells will not. Calcifications can form in the area of fat grafts that do not “take” (survive); this can show up as abnormalities on a mammogram. For this reason, free fat grafting is only recommended in small areas where there is not normal breast tissue, such as in Poland’s syndrome or after mastectomy for cancer with reconstruction. Correction by lipofilling may be complete following a single session of fat grafting. Commonly up to three procedures staged 3-6 months apart may be needed. Fat graft surgery is done in the operating room as an outpatient procedure, and may or may not be covered by insurance.

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Will My Other Breast Be Balanced to Match the Poland’s Reconstruction?

A balancing procedure is often recommended for the opposite breast to match the reconstructed breast for all types of reconstruction. Balancing procedures may include a breast reduction, breast lift, or breast augmentation based on the details of your body, your Poland’s syndrome and your method of reconstruction. Your surgeon will examine both sides of your chest and will recommend the procedure(s) that best meet your goals and that provide the best aesthetic results with the greatest balance and symmetry.

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What Really Happens During Poland’s Syndrome Surgery?

Please see our Preparing for Surgery section to learn about what happens in the operating room on the day of surgery. Please also visit the sections that describe the various reconstructive methods in Poland’s syndrome for details of each surgery option. Our Preparing for Surgery will teach you about preparing for your Poland’s syndrome correction.

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What is the Recovery After Poland’s Syndrome Correction?

Please see our Postoperative Instructions section, Special Instructions for Breast Implant Surgery and Recovering from Microsurgery for additional information about Poland’s syndrome recovery.

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What Are Potential Risks and Complications of Poland’s Syndrome Correction Surgery?

When you are considering any type of surgery, you should be fully educated about potential risks and complications. Please see our Preparing for Surgery section to learn about risks and potential complications related to surgery and Postoperative Instructions for additional information pertaining specifically to Poland’s syndrome correction.

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Please click here to see before and after Poland’s syndrome surgery results!

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Will My Poland’s Reconstruction Be Covered by Insurance?

Corrective surgery for Poland’s syndrome may or may not be covered by insurance. Your personal financial responsibility for surgery depends on the specifics of your insurance plan and whether your surgeon is a participating provider for your particular plan. Our Patient Coordinator Mary will go over this with you in detail as we plan your surgery and will assist you in using your insurance to your greatest advantage.

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How Do I Know Which Poland’s Syndrome Reconstruction Method is Right For Me?

When first meeting a Woman in consultation for Poland’s reconstruction, we ask her: “If we could just wave a magic wand (how nice would that be!), how would you WISH your breasts to be? Larger, smaller, fuller, perkier, or just more symmetric?” For Men with Poland’s syndrome, the goal is usually symmetry with the other side of their chest. Reconstruction should be viewed as an opportunity, and we aim to make the reconstructive process a rewarding and positive experience for each individual with Poland’s syndrome.

In general, either and implant or a flap are the two main options for Poland’s correction. Details of each procedure will be described to you at your consultation, based on your anatomy, your aesthetic goals and availability of donor site tissue for Microsurgery.

Evaluate what your personal goals are for your Poland’s reconstruction. Make a wish list and jot down questions to bring with you to your consultation so that we can best answer your questions, address your concerns and together determine which procedure(s) will best achieve your goals.

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Artistry in Poland’s Reconstruction

Poland’s reconstruction is a very personal procedure, and is individualized to each patient on a case-by-case basis. No single procedure is right for everyone. The most appropriate reconstructive method considers an individual’s particular anatomy, body shape, lifestyle and aesthetic goals. No matter which method is used, our goal is always to create a beautiful, natural, long-lasting Poland’s reconstruction.

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How Can I Best Prepare for Poland’s Syndrome Surgery?

In addition to our website and additional educational materials given to you at your preoperative office visit, please print out and read the comprehensive Preparing for Breast Reconstruction Surgery handout. This pamphlet, written by Nurses and Doctors at the hospital where your surgery will take place, describes in detail your hospital experience and helps to educate you what to expect in the hospital and during your recovery.

Please also visit our Before and After Photo Gallery to see images of Poland’s reconstruction and our Testimonials section to hear our patients’ experiences in their own words.

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As women Plastic Surgeons, we intimately understand how a person’s feelings about their chest and breasts can influence their confidence, self-image and self-esteem. At your Poland’s syndrome consultation, your surgeon will spend a great deal of time with you to get to know you personally and take a complete medical history. We will explore your reasons for seeking Poland’s syndrome correction, examine your chest, and if you are an appropriate candidate for surgery, your options will be described in detail.

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Dr. Karen M. Horton, M.D. - Plastic Surgery, Physicians & Surgeons - Medical-M.D., San Francisco, CA