Long-term predictable nipple projection following reconstruction

J W Few, J R Marcus, L A Casas, M E Aitken, J Redding
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 1999, 104 (5): 1321-4
The creation of the nipple-areola complex is often the final step in the surgical treatment of breast cancer patients, and it consequently has important symbolic and aesthetic implications. Patient expectations and the need for symmetry make nipple projection a crucial aesthetic determinant of nipple reconstruction. We hypothesize that long-term nipple projection and shape can be achieved in a predictable fashion using the modified star dermal fat flap technique. Prospectively, 93 nipples were reconstructed by a single surgeon using a modified star dermal fat flap technique in 44 implant and 49 TRAM flap breast reconstructions. Flap dimensions (base diameter and flap length) were designed according to patient desire or to the base diameter and projection of the opposite breast nipple. A standardized, 3-month postoperative care regimen was observed in all patients. Nipple projection was assessed by the same observer at each follow-up examination. The average length of follow-up was 730 days (745 for TRAM reconstructions and 713 for implants). Consistently, an average of 41 percent of the intraoperative projection remained intact in both groups at final evaluation (SD 12 percent). The total flap length was strongly predictive of intraoperative and long-term projection (r = 0.64 and 0.86, p < 0.0001). Flap lengths ranged from 5.5 to 9.0 cm, and in a linear correlation, resulted in intraoperative projection of 1.0 to 2.1 cm, respectively, and long-term projection of 0.4 to 0.83 cm, respectively. Based on the linear relationship, every 1-cm increase in flap length could be expected to result in a 0.16-cm increase in projection. When controlled for flap length and intraoperative projection, there was no difference between TRAM and implant nipple reconstruction in predicting postoperative nipple projection. Intraoperative planning and execution are critical to achieve predictable nipple shape, size, and projection. The dimensions of the star dermal fat flap can be strategically modified to allow the surgeon predictable projection with a consistent 41-percent preservation of intraoperative nipple projection in both TRAM and implant patients at 2 years.

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