What is DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction
The DIEP flap is the most advanced form of breast reconstruction available today. It is also the preferred technique at PRMA. It uses the patient's own abdominal skin and fat. The tissue is used to restore a natural, warm, soft breast after mastectomy. Unlike the TRAM flap, the DIEP preserves all the abdominal muscles. Only skin and fat are removed. The tissue is removed similar to a "tummy tuck." Saving the abdominal muscles means patients have less pain. Patients also enjoy a faster recovery. They are able to maintain core strength long-term, and have a lower risk of abdominal complications.
Who performs DIEP surgery?
PRMA is the only center in San Antonio, Texas and one of only a handful of centers worldwide to provide breast reconstruction on such a large scale. Our surgeons treat patients from across Texas and the US, as well as international patients. We are proud to have a tremendous global reputation for breast reconstruction excellence.
There are many reconstructive breast surgeons in the United States. However, very few perform DIEP flap routinely due to the technical difficulty of the surgery. To date, our surgeons have performed thousands of microsurgical breast procedures. We are proud to perform over 800 DIEP surgeries every year. Our success rate is over 99%.
How is DIEP flap surgery performed?
The skin and fat below the belly button feels similar to breast tissue. It is a good option to replace the breast tissue removed by the mastectomy.
The blood vessels (“perforators”) keeping this skin and fat alive travel just beneath or within the abdominal muscle. A small incision is made in the abdominal muscle to access them. The tissue is disconnected from the body and transplanted to the chest using microsurgery. The surgeons shapes the tissue to create a new breast.
Some patients anatomy will not allow for full muscle preservation with a standard approach. Usually this is because the tissue needs more than 1 blood vessel to ensure the best blood supply. In some cases, there is intervening muscle between these blood vessels that many surgeons would just cut. Not at PRMA! In these situations, our surgeons perform a modification of the DIEP. This is known as an APEX flap. This technique allows for complete preservation of the patient’s muscle.
Women also enjoy the added benefit of a flatter abdomen with results like a “tummy tuck.” The risk of abdominal complications like bulging and hernia is also very small. Especially when compared with the TRAM.
Most patients are also candidates for sensory nerve reconstruction. Nerves providing sensation to the breast are often cut during a mastectomy. This may cause numbness to the chest and/or reconstructed breast. Sensory nerve reconstruction repairs the nerves that supply feeling to the breast. This procedure improves the return of feeling to the reconstructed breast. PRMA is one of only a few centers in the world to offer this procedure.
Patients who have arm lymphedema from previous breast cancer surgery may also be candidates for Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer. This is performed in combination with DIEP reconstruction. The procedure involves removing healthy lymph nodes from the groin. The healthy lymph nodes are then transplanted to the underarm. This can significantly improve lymphedema symptoms.
Patients who are unhappy with their implant reconstruction results may also be a DIEP flap candidate. Implants can be removed via Explant Surgery. Our surgeons can then reconstruct a breast with a patient’s own tissue. This is something we perform routinely at PRMA. Many patients report being more satisfied with their results after replacing their implants with their own tissue.
What Does DIEP Flap Recovery Look Like
Knowing what to expect during recovery is important. The healing journey is different for everyone. But, here is an outline of what patients can expect after surgery:
Patients stay 2-3 days in the hospital after surgery. Thanks to our ERAS protocol, patients feel well enough to be up walking the morning after surgery. Patients will also take a shower in the hospital. The rest of the first week is spent getting settled back home. Patients will slowly increase walking time and distance. For those traveling from out of state, a follow up appointment in the office is scheduled. This allows travel back home a week or so after surgery.
For local patients, a follow up appointment is scheduled within two weeks after surgery. If drain output is low enough they are removed. During the second week patients will begin easing into their post-operative range of motion arm exercises. By the end of the second week patients can switch from the surgical bra and abdominal binder to a wireless bra and panty girdle. (Be sure to get clearance from your doctor or nurse first.) Most patients also feel comfortable enough to drive. Driving is allowed as long as they are not taking narcotics.
During the third week after surgery, patients typically feel more like themselves. Most at home medications can be resumed if not restarted already. Please clear all medications with your physician first. Any remaining surgical drains are removed. Patients with low-impact/work-from-home jobs can return to work at this time if they desire.
During the fourth week a follow up appointment is scheduled with the surgeon. Planning stage 2 of the reconstruction (the revision stage) starts now. Patients should continue to increase cardio endurance as they feel able.
After the first month, many patient may experience new pains in the breast and abdomen as activity is increased. This is normal and will get better over time.
By week six most patients are released from all restrictions. Most patients are able to return to work as well. Remember, not everyone heals at the same rate. It is important to listen to your body as you resume all activities.
DIEP Flap Key Information
- The DIEP is the most advanced form of breast reconstruction available today
- It uses the patient’s own abdominal skin and fat to restore a natural, warm, soft breast after mastectomy
- Unlike the TRAM, the DIEP preserves all the abdominal muscles
- Most patients are also candidates for sensory nerve reconstruction
- Women also enjoy the added benefit of a flatter abdomen like a “tummy tuck”
- The risk of abdominal complications (such as bulging and hernia) is very small
- Vascularized lymph node transfer can be performed at the same time to treat arm lymphedema
- A team of two microsurgeons performs every procedure
- PRMA performs over 700 DIEP surgeries each year
- Our success rate is over 99%
PRMA Plastic Surgery Patient Stories
Oh what I would give to have found PRMA before my mastectomy, prosthesis, implants and 6 plus years of not being satisfied. I thank God every day for bringing PRMA into my life and I thank them for doing what they do so well. My wish is that PRMA reaches as many women possible early on so they too can benefit from the amazing work that they do for breast cancer patients. I promote PRMA every chance I have!
I would like to say is throughout the whole procedure from the first procedure, to the second procedure, to my final procedures I never felt less than a woman. I like my breast, and so the entire time I never felt like I was not a woman at any point. So definitely I would recommend PRMA to anyone and everyone.
I’m super excited and love the results and feel amazing. I want to let anyone listening to this know that I had the worst anxiety before my surgery thinking of everything you can imagine. I can say that this was 100% the right choice for me I love the way that I look. The process was much easier than what I expected.
I knew I wanted to have a mastectomy, but I didn’t know about breast reconstruction. Dr. Ledoux gave me ALL the options I had, and I really appreciated that!
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