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Plast Reconstr Surg. 2000 Aug;106(2):313-7; discussion 318-20.

Postoperative adjuvant irradiation: effects on tranverse rectus abdominis muscle flap breast reconstruction.

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Department of Plastic Surgery at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, USA.


The use of postoperative irradiation following oncologic breast surgery is dictated by tumor pathology, margins, and lymph node involvement. Although irradiation negatively influences implant reconstruction, it is less clear what effect it has on autogenous tissue. This study evaluated the effect of postoperative irradiation on transverse rectus abdominis muscle (TRAM) flap breast reconstruction. A retrospective review was performed on all patients undergoing immediate TRAM flap breast reconstruction followed by postoperative irradiation between 1988 and 1998. Forty-one patients with a median age of 48 years received an average of 50.99 Gy of fractionated irradiation within 6 months after breast reconstruction. All except two received adjuvant chemotherapy. Data were obtained from personal communication, physical examination, chart, and photographic review. The minimum follow-up time was 1 year, with an average of 3 years, after completion of radiation therapy. Nine patients received pedicled TRAM flaps and 32 received reconstruction with microvascular transfer. Fourteen patients had bilateral reconstruction, but irradiation was administered unilaterally to the breast with the higher risk of local recurrence. The remaining 27 patients had unilateral reconstruction. All patients were examined at least 1 year after radiotherapy. No flap loss occurred, but 10 patients (24 percent) required an additional flap to correct flap contracture. Nine patients (22 percent) maintained a normal breast volume. Hyperpigmentation occurred in 37 percent of the patients, and 56 percent were noted to have a firm reconstruction. Palpable fat necrosis was noted in 34 percent of the flaps and loss of symmetry in 78 percent. Because the numbers were small, there was no statistical difference between the pedicled and free TRAM group. However, as a group, the findings were statistically significant when compared with 1,443 nonirradiated TRAM patients. Despite the success of flap transfer, unpredictable volume, contour, and symmetry loss make it difficult to achieve consistent results using immediate TRAM breast reconstruction with postoperative irradiation. TRAM flap reconstruction in this setting should be approached cautiously, and delayed reconstruction in selected patients should be considered. Patients should be aware that multiple revisions and, possibly, additional flaps are necessary to correct the progressive deformity from radiation therapy.

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