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Breast Reconstruction With Tissue Much Safer Than Implants When Radiation Planned After Mastectomy

Posted Dec 29 2008 3:14pm
A study published in the November issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics examined the effect of radiation therapy on different methods of immediate breast reconstruction surgery . For breast cancer patients who receive radiation therapy after a mastectomy and immediate breast reconstruction, autologous tissue reconstruction (ie reconstruction using their own tissue) provides fewer long-term complications and superior cosmetic results than breast reconstruction with a tissue expander and subsequent breast implant.

Many women choose to undergo breast reconstruction surgery at the same time as their mastectomy procedure (under the same anesthetic). This avoids many of the psycho-social issues women face when dealing with a flat chest after mastectomy alone. However, frequently radiation can negatively affect the outcome of reconstruction and increase the risk of long-term complications.

Radiation therapy is increasingly becoming the standard of care for high-risk breast cancer patients after mastectomy in an attempt to decrease local cancer recurrence. However, this can cause a problem for both patients and their radiation oncologists.

Researchers at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Long Island Radiation Therapy in Garden City, N.Y., the Department of Surgery at Long Island Jewish Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y., the Department of Surgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., and the Department of Surgery at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., looked at whether the type of reconstruction performed in women receiving radiation after a mastectomy had an impact on their long-term outcomes.

Two general types of breast reconstruction are available for patients facing mastectomy for breast cancer: autologous tissue reconstruction utilizing the patient's own tissue (eg DIEP flap , GAP flap , TRAM flap , or latissimus flap ) transferred to the chest to recreate the breast(s); and tissue expander/implant reconstruction which involves placement of an inflatable tissue expander (temporary saline implant) and exchange for a permanent implant (saline or silicone) at a separate procedure later on.

This study involved the largest reported series of patients who sequentially underwent mastectomy, immediate reconstruction and postmastectomy radiation therapy. Ninety-two patients were observed for a period of 38 months following breast reconstruction and radiation therapy.

Researchers found that autologous breast reconstruction is better tolerated by breast cancer patients because it is associated with fewer long-term complications and better cosmetic results than tissue expander/implant reconstruction.

None of the 23 patients reconstructed with their own tissue required further surgery while 33% of tissue expander/implant patients needed surgery to correct a problem with their reconstruction. Eighty-three percent of autologous reconstruction patients reported acceptable cosmetic results, as opposed to only 54% of implant patients.

"This study is useful for patients who are candidates for either [method of reconstruction] and are making a decision with regards to reconstruction technique," Jigna Jhaveri, M.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at Advanced Radiation Centers of New York in Hauppauge, N.Y., said. "Our study provides evidence that patients who undergo autologous tissue reconstruction and radiation therapy have fewer long term complications and better cosmetic outcomes than those who undergo tissue expander/implant reconstruction and radiation therapy."

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Here's my take....

While some plastic surgeons will disagree with this statement I strongly believe that breast implants and radiation therapy do not get along (at all). I feel the complication rate in implant-reconstructed women receiving radiation therapy is very high, particularly long-term. The handful of women that "do fine" in the short-term will very frequently end up with hard, uncomfortable breasts as the irradiated tissue firms-up over time and squeezes down on the implant. In my opinion the re-operation rate is too high for tissue expander/implant reconstruction to be offered as a routine option when radiation is on the table. This study confirms that breast reconstruction using the patient's own tissue is far safer than tissue expander/implant reconstruction in women facing radiation therapy after mastectomy.

Dr C

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Dr Chrysopoulo is a board certified plastic surgeon specializing in breast reconstruction surgery after mastectomy , particularly advanced perforator flap techniques such as the DIEP flap procedure . PRMA Plastic Surgery, San Antonio, Texas. Toll Free: (800) 692-5565. Keep up to date with the latest breast reconstruction news by following The Breast Cancer Reconstruction Blog.

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