Challenging a Traditional Paradigm: 12-Year Experience with Autologous Free Flap Breast Reconstruction for Inflammatory Breast Cancer

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Background:Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare but aggressive breast cancer with an overall poor prognosis. Traditionally, reconstruction has not been offered, because of poor long-term survival, the need for multimodality treatment, and complex treatment sequencing. The authors examined the safety and feasibility of free flap breast reconstruction for inflammatory breast cancer.Methods:A retrospective analysis of all patients who underwent reconstruction for inflammatory breast cancer from January of 2000 to December of 2012 was conducted.Results:Of 830 inflammatory breast cancer patients, 59 (7.1 percent; median age, 48 years; range, 27 to 65 years) underwent free flap reconstruction. All patients received chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Most patients (n = 52) underwent delayed reconstruction. Five patients with a history of prior partial mastectomy and irradiation developed inflammatory breast cancer and underwent immediate reconstruction following completion mastectomy. Two others underwent immediate chest wall and breast reconstruction following resection. Thirteen patients underwent bilateral reconstruction, and seven required a bipedicled abdominal flap for the unilateral mastectomy defect. Thirty-seven patients (62.7 percent) required revision of the reconstructed breast, and 29 (49.2 percent) had a contralateral balancing procedure to optimize symmetry. Complications occurred in 21 patients (35.6 percent), with one total flap loss (1.7 percent). The median length of follow-up was 43.9 months; 49 patients (83.1 percent) were alive without evidence of recurrent disease.Conclusions:Autologous free flap breast reconstruction can be performed safely in inflammatory breast cancer patients, with acceptable complication rates and without an increased risk for flap loss. Inflammatory breast cancer should not preclude free flap breast reconstruction.CLINICAL QUESTION/LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:Therapeutic, IV.

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