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Breast reconstruction with abdominal tissue flap

6-minute read

What is a breast reconstruction with abdominal tissue flap?

A breast reconstruction is an operation to recreate a breast shape after you have had a mastectomy (removing all your breast). Your surgeon will recreate a breast shape using tissue from your lower abdomen.

What are the benefits of surgery?

You should get a breast shape again.

Most women who have a successful breast reconstruction are more comfortable with their appearance.

Are there any alternatives to a breast reconstruction with abdominal tissue?

Using padded bras or bra inserts can give the appearance of a breast shape when you are wearing clothes.

It may be possible to have a reconstruction using only an implant.

A reconstruction can be performed using the latissimus dorsi muscle that is moved from the side of your back and used to recreate a breast shape.

What will happen if I decide not to have the operation?

A breast reconstruction will not improve your physical health. Your surgeon may be able to recommend an alternative to recreate a breast shape.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes 5 to 8 hours.

Your surgeon will make a cut on your ‘bikini' line and around your belly button.

An illustration showing abdominal tissue used to recreate a breast shape.
Abdominal tissue used to recreate a breast shape.

During the operation, your surgeon will assess the blood vessels in your lower abdomen. Depending on the size and condition of the blood vessels, they will perform one of the following procedures.

  • Free TRAM flap — Your surgeon will cut a flap that includes your abdominal muscle on one side below your belly button and bring it to your chest.
  • Muscle-sparing TRAM flap — Your surgeon will cut away only a small part of your abdominal muscle with the flap.
  • DIEP flap — Your surgeon will cut a flap that includes a single blood vessel that passes through your abdominal muscle, along with some skin and fat.
  • SIEA flap — Depending on the size of your breasts, your surgeon may be able to move only a superficial blood vessel and not need to disturb your abdominal muscle.
  • Pedicled TRAM flap — If the blood vessels in your lower abdomen are not suitable, your surgeon will cut a flap that includes all of your abdominal muscle on one side up to your ribcage along with some skin and fat of the flap. After cutting the lower end of the muscle, your surgeon will create a tunnel under the skin in your upper abdomen and will move the flap, including the muscle, up through the tunnel to your chest and use it to recreate a breast shape.

How can I prepare myself for the operation?

If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health.

Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight. If you gain weight after your cancer surgery, this operation may not be considered safe.

Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

You can reduce your risk of infection in a surgical wound.

  • In the week before the operation, do not shave or wax the area where a cut is likely to be made.
  • Try to have a bath or shower either the day before or on the day of the operation.
  • Keep warm around the time of the operation. Let the healthcare team know if you feel cold.
  • If you are diabetic, keep your blood sugar levels under control around the time of your procedure.

If you have not had the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, you may be at an increased risk of serious illness related to COVID-19 while you recover. Speak to your doctor or healthcare team if you would like to have the vaccine.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • bleeding during or after the operation
  • infection of the surgical site
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • acute kidney injury
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • chest infection

Specific complications of this operation

  • developing a lump under your wound caused by fluid collecting
  • developing a lump under your wound caused by blood collecting
  • loss of the flap during the operation or in the first 5 days
  • partial loss of the flap
  • fat necrosis. This is when there is not enough blood being supplied to an area of fat, and the fat becomes hard
  • skin necrosis, where some of the original breast skin at the edge of your wound dies leaving a black area
  • difference in shape, size and appearance
  • numbness of the surface of the reconstructed breast
  • abdominal weakness, including a bulge or hernia

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after 4 to 7 days when the drains have been removed.

You should be able to return to normal activities after 4 to 6 weeks.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Do not drive for at least 3 weeks.

The healthcare team will arrange for you to come back to the clinic after 1 to 2 weeks. At the clinic your surgeon will check your wounds and tell you when you can return to work.

The shape of your reconstructed breast takes several weeks to settle. It can take up to a year for you to feel as if your reconstructed breast is part of you.

Summary

A breast reconstruction with abdominal tissue is an operation to recreate a breast shape. You should consider the options carefully and have realistic expectations about the results.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.

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Last reviewed: September 2022


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