Background: Restoring sensory innervation may be a useful adjunct in free flap head and neck reconstruction but, as yet, has not been shown to improve outcomes of breast reconstruction. The authors’ previous study demonstrated objectively improved sensation in a group of innervated transverse rectus abdominis musculocutaneous (TRAM) flap breast reconstruction patients relative to noninnervated flaps. This study compared patient-rated outcomes of free TRAM breast reconstruction in innervated versus noninnervated flaps.
Methods: Twenty-seven women were randomized prospectively to undergo either innervated or noninnervated free TRAM flap breast reconstruction. For innervated flaps, the T10 intercostal nerve was harvested with the TRAM flap and neurotized to the T4 sensory nerve at the recipient site. Three validated outcome tools were administered after surgery: the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short Form Health Survey, the Body Image after Breast Cancer Questionnaire, and the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–Breast. Results were correlated with previously reported objective sensibility outcomes.
Results: Eighteen of 27 women returned their questionnaires a mean 48 months after free TRAM flap reconstruction. Demographic analysis revealed no significant differences in patient age, height, smoking, radiation therapy, and nipple-areola complex reconstruction between randomized patient groups. There was a statistically significant improvement in all three measures in patients who were randomized to receive innervated free TRAM flaps compared with those receiving noninnervated flaps.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates that innervation of free TRAM flaps used for breast reconstruction not only improves sensibility but also has a positive effect on patient-rated quality of life.