Racial Differences in Ischemic Complications of Pedicled Versus Free Abdominal Flaps for Breast Reconstruction

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This study aims to determine the relationship between race and ischemic complications in women undergoing breast reconstruction with pedicled TRAM (pTRAM) and perforator flaps (DIEP).

Patients and Methods

A retrospective, cross-sectional study of women who underwent breast reconstruction utilizing either pTRAM or DIEP flaps from March 1, 2002 to September 1, 2012 was performed. Clinical and demographic variables, including race and ischemic complications (mastectomy flap necrosis, fat necrosis, partial abdominal flap necrosis, vascular compromise requiring reoperation), were examined. Fat necrosis was graded using a previously established scale (grade I = radiologically visible, II = palpable, III = palpable and visible, IV = symptomatic).


Over the 10-year study period, adequate follow-up was available for 138 women (94 Caucasian, 36 African American) who underwent pTRAM or DIEP. Fat necrosis occurred more frequently in the pTRAM group (53.5% vs. 17.4%, P < 0.001). There was no statistically significant difference in partial flap necrosis or mastectomy flap necrosis between the 2 groups. The DIEP group had a higher rate of vascular compromise requiring reoperation (13% vs. 0, P = 0.003).


In the pTRAM group, there was a higher rate of fat necrosis (77% vs. 45.6%, P < 0.001) and grade IV fat necrosis in African Americans (42.8% vs. 9.5%, P = 0.005). Rates of other ischemic complications were comparable between the 2 racial groups. In the DIEP group, ischemic complications were comparable between the 2 racial groups. After stratifying by flap type and race, we saw no differences in mastectomy flap necrosis (P = 0.0182).


African Americans undergoing pTRAM flap are at higher risk for grade IV fat necrosis but not mastectomy flap necrosis or partial flap necrosis. This may be due to difficulty using physical examination to judge the vascular status of a pedicle flap that is known to undergo significant changes in vascular physiology following transfer. Intraoperative assessment of perfusion using new technologies may be useful in these higher risk patients.

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