Background: Pedicled and free transverse rectus abdominis musculocutaneous (TRAM) flaps remain popular for autologous breast reconstruction, but the incidence of abdominal donor-site bulge and hernia is significantly greater when compared with deep inferior epigastric artery perforator (DIEP) flap reconstruction. Mesh repair after muscle harvest, however, may reduce the complication rate to that observed with perforator flaps alone.
Methods: A retrospective review of all free flap breast reconstructions at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center from 2002 to 2007 was performed. Abdominal bulge and hernia were noted for patients undergoing free TRAM and muscle-sparing free TRAM flap reconstructions and were compared with those observed following DIEP flap reconstructions.
Results: A total of 275 free TRAM plus muscle-sparing free TRAM flaps and 200 DIEP flaps were performed. Among patients with free and muscle-sparing free TRAM flaps, 11.3 percent were found to have postoperative abdominal bulge or hernia. Only 3.5 percent of DIEP flap patients had abdominal complications. Incorporating mesh into the rectus fascia repair significantly reduced the abdominal complications reported to 5.1 percent. Of the 86 free and muscle-sparing free TRAM flaps that were bilateral, 12.8 percent had hernias/bulges. Use of mesh with bilateral free and muscle-sparing free TRAM flaps reduced the complication rate to 3.7 percent.
Conclusions: Incorporating mesh into rectus fascia repair in free and muscle-sparing free TRAM flap cases significantly reduces the rate of postoperative abdominal complications to levels equivalent to those for DIEP flap reconstructions. The authors advocate deciding intraoperatively between DIEP and muscle-sparing free TRAM flap dissections based on ease of dissection and whichever offers optimal safety and flap perfusion. Routine use of mesh in donor-site repair will decrease postoperative abdominal morbidity in unilateral and bilateral cases.