Perforator Flap Breast Reconstruction After Unsatisfactory Implant Reconstruction

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In 2009, 86,424 breast reconstructions were performed in the United States, with 76% being implant-based procedures. Capsular contracture and infection are the 2 most cited indications for implant explantation, resulting in a reconstruction failure. However, several patients are dissatisfied with implant reconstruction even without the aforementioned complications. We hypothesize that microvascular autologous tissue transfer with perforator free-flap breast reconstruction provides an excellent salvage modality in the face of an unsatisfactory implant reconstruction, resulting in an improved cosmetic and functional outcome, with low risk of complications. We retrospectively reviewed the charts of patients in the senior author's practice who underwent perforator flap breast reconstruction between the years 1998 through 2008, and identified all patients who had prior implant reconstruction. Indications for implant explantation, medical history, operative procedure, and postoperative complications were reviewed. During the study period, 1846 perforator flaps were performed. We found 191 patients who underwent autologous breast reconstruction after implant reconstruction with a total of 284 flaps (15.4%). The most frequent patient complaint was unnatural appearance and feel of the implants (Baker I or Baker II), and the majority of patients had not undergone radiation. Most patients were reconstructed using abdominal flaps with 164 deep inferior epigastric perforators, 50 superior gluteal artery perforators, 30 superficial inferior epigastric arteries, 35 inferior gluteal artery perforators, and 5 transverse upper gracilis. The total complication rate was 7.4%, with most complications related to wound healing at the donor site. There were 3 flap losses (1%), all of which were later successfully reconstructed with another perforator flap. Implant failures are traditionally thought to be in patients with Baker grade III/IV capsular contractures and in patients status post radiation therapy. However, in our study, the majority of patients seeking perforator flap reconstruction after implant reconstruction complained of an unnatural feel and appearance of their breasts, and did not have a severe capsular contracture deformity (Baker III/IV), nor had they undergone radiation. This suggests that implant reconstruction can lead to patient dissatisfaction severe enough to warrant removal even with Baker I/II results, and not in the setting of postradiation changes.

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