A mastectomy or radiation therapy may not leave enough chest wall tissue that will cover and support a breast implant. For these patients, an autologous reconstruction using the patient’s own tissue is possible. One of the autologous breast reconstruction procedures is the deep inferior epigastric perforator flap or DIEP flap.
A DIEP flap breast reconstruction procedure is an advanced microsurgical muscle-sparing technique in which blood vessels, as well as the skin and fat connected to them, are surgically lifted from the lower abdomen and moved to the chest in order to reconstruct a breast after a mastectomy. The DIEP flap procedure doesn’t negatively affect the abdominal muscles because the skin and fat that are removed are the excess living fat below the belly button that gives the reconstructed breast volume and shape.
Factors that determine whether or not a woman is a good candidate for a DIEP flap procedure include the amount of tissue that is available for transfer, the width, and flexibility of the blood vessels and the size of the breast(s). If more volume is needed for the reconstructed breast, after a healing period of six to eight weeks, a breast implant can be placed underneath the DIEP flap.
Skin and fat can be removed only one time from the abdomen for the DIEP flap breast reconstruction procedure. If there is a need for reconstruction of the other breast, the decision to harvest the tissue should be made prior to the DIEP flap reconstruction procedure so that there will be enough tissue for both breasts.
The benefits of a DIEP flap reconstruction
Because skin, excess fat, and blood vessels are moved from the abdomen to the chest wall area, the DIEP flap procedure will result in a better-contoured abdomen – one that is flatter and tighter, as if an abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck, had been performed. And, since the reconstruction procedure uses the patient’s own tissue, the risks normally associated with implant reconstruction are lessened. With a breast that has been reconstructed with the patient’s own tissue, the resulting breast is more natural. Also, there are better postoperative outcomes with DIEP flap procedures – patients can leave the hospital sooner and return to normal activities quicker and since the abdominal muscles have been spared, there is less of a risk of abdominal weakness, hernia or postoperative pain.
The DIEP flap breast reconstruction procedure requires special surgical training with a surgeon who has expertise in microsurgery. The surgeons at Rowe Plastic Surgery can offer their breast cancer patients the DIEP flap breast reconstruction procedure. If you’re considering a DIEP flap for your breast reconstruction, please contact us for more information and to schedule a consultation with our specialists.