Staged Breast Reconstruction with Saline-Filled Implants in the Irradiated Breast: Recent Trends and Therapeutic Implications

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A retrospective review was performed of one surgeon’s experience with 40 consecutive patients who had undergone two-stage saline-filled implant breast reconstruction and radiation during the period from 1990 through 1997. A randomly selected group of 40 other two-stage saline-filled implant breast reconstructions from the same surgeon and time period served as controls. This review was undertaken because of the absence of specific information on the outcome of staged saline implant reconstructions in the radiated breast. Previously published reports on silicone gel implants and radiation have been contradictory. At the same time, the criteria for the use of radiation in the treatment of breast cancer have been expanded and the numbers of reconstruction patients who have been radiated are increasing dramatically. For example, in a 1985 report on immediate breast reconstruction, only 1 of 185 patients over a 6-year period underwent adjuvant radiation therapy, whereas in this review, there were 40 radiated breasts with saline-filled implants, 19 of which received adjuvant radiation therapy during their expansion.The study parameters included patient age, breast cup size, implant size, length of follow-up, number of procedures, coincident flap operations, Baker classification, complications, opposite breast procedures, pathologic stage, indications for and details about the radiation, and outcomes.The use of radiation in this review of reconstructed breasts can logically be divided into four groups: previous lumpectomy and radiation (n = 7), mastectomy and radiation before reconstruction (n = 9), mastectomy and adjuvant radiation during reconstruction/expansion (n = 19), and radiation after reconstruction (n = 5). The largest and most rapidly growing group of patients is of those receiving postmastectomy adjuvant radiation therapy.A total of 47.5 percent (19 of 40) of radiated breasts with saline implants ultimately needed the addition of, or replacement by, a flap. Ten percent of a control group with nonradiated saline implant reconstructions also had flaps, none as replacements. Fifty percent or more of both the radiated and control groups had contralateral surgery. Complications were far more common in the radiated group; for example, there were 32.5 percent capsular contractures compared with none in the control group. The control nonradiated implant-only group and the flap plus implant radiated group did well cosmetically. The radiated implant-only group was judged the worst.The increasing use of radiation after mastectomy has important implications for breast reconstruction. The possibility for radiation should be thoroughly investigated and anticipated preoperatively before immediate breast reconstruction. Patients with invasive disease, particularly with large tumors or palpable axillary lymph nodes, are especially likely to be encouraged to undergo postmastectomy radiation therapy. The indications for adjuvant radiation therapy have included four or more positive axillary lymph nodes, tumors 4 cm (or more) in diameter, and tumors at or near the margin of resection. More recently, some centers are recommending adjuvant radiation therapy for patients with as few as one positive lymph node or even in situ carcinoma close to the resection margin.The use of latissimus dorsi flaps after radiation has proven to be an excellent solution to postradiation tissue contracture, which can occur during breast expander reconstruction. The use of the latissimus flap electively with skin-sparing mastectomy preradiation is probably unwise, unless postmastectomy radiation is unlikely. Skin-sparing mastectomy with a latissimus flap thus should be preserved for patients unlikely to undergo adjuvant radiation therapy. Purely autologous reconstruction such as a TRAM flap is another option for these patients, either before or after radiation therapy. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 105: 930, 2000.)

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