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The Risks & Benefits of DIEP Flap Surgery After a Mastectomy

black-woman-pink-headscarfFor women undergoing breast cancer treatment, weighing your options for post mastectomy breast reconstruction can be overwhelming. 

This is an important and personal decision affecting your physical health and body image. Complex feelings are normal as you navigate your treatment options, so it’s important to remember that your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical recovery. Rebuilding your body confidence will take time, and choosing the right surgical option is essential. DIEP flap reconstruction, also known as a DIEP flap procedure, has multiple benefits that can help strengthen and renew your relationship with your body.

Reasons to Choose DIEP Flap Reconstruction Surgery

DIEP flap breast reconstruction is an advanced microsurgical technique using the patient’s own abdominal tissue to reconstruct the breast, creating natural-looking contours. Patients also enjoy a tummy tuck effect from stomach tissue removal. No muscle is removed from the abdomen in the DIEP flap procedure, so there is less risk of hernias, loss of core strength, and other issues seen with traditional TRAM flaps. For appropriate candidates, DIEP flap reconstruction delivers excellent cosmetic results and often retains breast sensation. 

Reduced Risk of Implant-Based Complications

Unlike implant reconstruction, DIEP flap breast reconstruction does not require breast implants. By utilizing the patient’s own abdominal tissue, there is no risk of complications associated with implants, such as implant rupture or leakage, or the need for additional breast revision surgery for implant replacement. Many patients also experience greater peace of mind knowing their new breast is composed solely of their own natural tissue. 

Preserves the Abdominal Muscles

A significant advantage of DIEP flap breast reconstruction is that it generally does not disturb the abdominal muscles. During surgery, the surgeon carefully detaches small blood vessels that supply blood to the skin and fat in the lower abdomen. No muscle tissue is removed. This differs from earlier techniques like TRAM flap reconstruction, which removed portions of the abdominal muscles for breast reconstruction. Because the abdominal muscles are left intact, patients have less risk of side effects like hernias or abdominal weakness. The muscle-sparing nature of the DIEP flap technique allows for quicker recovery with less pain as well.

woman holding breast contourProvides a More Natural-looking Breast Contour

DIEP flap reconstruction provides a more natural result compared to other reconstructive techniques because it utilizes the patient's own skin and tissue. This tissue can be meticulously shaped into a breast mound that looks and feels very similar to the original breast. The DIEP flap's robust blood supply and the preservation of abdominal nerves also help maximize the viability and sensation of the transferred tissue. When performed by an experienced reconstructive surgeon, DIEP flap surgery can achieve excellent cosmetic outcomes with natural breast symmetry. For many patients, it provides the most natural-looking and feeling breast reconstruction option available.

Improves Self-Esteem and Body Image 

For many women undergoing mastectomy, restoring their sense of femininity and self-confidence is a top priority. DIEP flap reconstruction can help you feel more comfortable in your body and clothes — while relying on your body’s natural tissue to heal and restore itself. Since the reconstructed breast retains the softness and often some sensation like natural breasts. Women often describe feeling “whole” again following DIEP flap surgery, making it a physically and emotionally therapeutic option for some patients.

Sensations in Your Reconstructed Breast

One advantage of the DIEP flap procedure is the potential to maintain some feeling in the reconstructed breast. Using the most advanced micro-surgical techniques, our physicians carefully preserve the abdominal nerves that supply sensation to the skin and fat tissue. The surgeon then meticulously reconnects these sensory nerves from the flap to corresponding nerves in the chest area. This allows sensation from parts of the abdomen to be transferred to the reconstructed breast. Retaining breast sensation has tremendous psychological benefits, and DIEP flap reconstruction provides the best opportunity for breast cancer survivors to regain feeling following mastectomy and breast reconstruction. 

What are the Risks of DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction

While DIEP flap reconstruction is considered a safe, life-affirming procedure for many women, there are potential risks and complications, as with all surgical procedures. Risks may be higher for patients with other health conditions that could affect healing. Understanding potential risks and discussing them with your breast reconstruction surgeon is an important step to determining which procedure is right for you.

Hernia - Weakness in the abdominal wall can lead to the development of a hernia which then requires surgical repair. However, since no muscle is taken in a DIEP flap, the risk of hernia is reduced compared to other flap techniques.

Lumps - Sometimes, a section of the transplanted fat tissue does not establish adequate blood flow, resulting in hardened lumps in the reconstructed breast. While usually harmless, these may require biopsy or surgical removal.

Tissue necrosis - If major blood vessels impacted by the surgery become compromised, this can lead to partial or total flap loss. This complication is rare but would require additional reconstructive surgery if it occurs. 

Diep Flap Consultations for Natural-Looking Breasts

If you are considering options for post mastectomy breast reconstruction, DIEP flap surgery is one of the most advanced, natural-looking procedures available. 

At the Institute for Advanced Reconstruction, our Double Board Certified breast surgeons in NJ, NY, and Philly have the expertise and compassion to help you determine which surgery is right for you. 

Schedule a consultation at one of our plastic surgery centers and take the next step toward life after breast cancer.