A breast cancer diagnosis takes both an emotional and physical toll on a patient. And when women undergo a double mastectomy, they may have concerns about their appearance or feelings of inadequacy.
A cutting-edge breast reconstruction procedure called a DIEP Flap is helping some patients regain natural-looking breasts, so they can heal and feel like themselves again.
What is a DIEP flap?
A DIEP flap is a breast reconstruction procedure that uses your own abdominal fat, along with its blood supply, to create a breast. Unlike a TRAM flap, a DIEP flap does not require the use of any muscle to rebuild the breast.
“A DIEP flap reconstruction is a good option for many patients because it gives very natural results,” says Grace Ma, M.D., a plastic surgeon at Piedmont. “And as an added bonus, you get a flatter tummy too.”
This procedure is highly specialized, so it is important to find an institution or surgeon who has a history of performing these reconstructions successfully on a regular basis.
“The vessels are very delicate and require meticulous dissection using loupes, the operating microscope and usually a second microsurgeon to assist,” says Dr. Ma. “Because of this, not many surgeons perform the procedure.”
Who is a good candidate for this procedure?
A good candidate for DIEP flap reconstruction is healthy, has a moderate amount of abdominal tissue and a body mass index (BMI) of 27 to 30.
“If you don’t have enough tissue, or if you’ve had a previous tummy tuck, you are not a candidate for the procedure,” says Dr. Ma. “For patients who have had a history of previous radiation therapy to the breast, a DIEP flap is the preferred method of reconstruction to bring healthy vascularized tissue back into the radiation damaged field.”
Is this procedure better than getting breast implants?
“What I tell my patients is that the DIEP flap procedure is a commitment up front, but once you are done, you are done for the rest of your life,” says Dr. Ma. “As far as implant reconstruction, it is a shorter procedure and shorter hospital stay up front, but there is a certain amount of upkeep throughout your lifetime.”
Breasts created from a DIEP flap last a lifetime. Implants typically last 10 to 15 years.
Learn more about breast reconstruction surgery.