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Choosing the Optimal Timing for Contralateral Symmetry Procedures After Unilateral Free Flap Breast Reconstruction

Chang, Edward I. MD; Selber, Jesse C. MD, MPH; Chang, Eric I. MD; Nosrati, Naveed MD; Zhang, Hong BS, PhD; Robb, Geoffrey L. MD; Chang, David W. MD

doi: 10.1097/SAP.0b013e31828bb1e3
Breast Surgery

Achieving symmetry in unilateral free flap breast reconstruction often requires a contralateral procedure; however, no large studies exist that examine the factors related to revisions performed on the contralateral breast. The present study examines the relationship between revision and complication rate, and the type and timing of the contralateral procedure. Retrospective analysis was performed of all unilateral free flap breast reconstructions from January 2000 to December 2010 at a single academic institution. Overall, 1120 patients underwent unilateral free flap breast reconstruction with 558 (49.8%) patients undergoing a contralateral procedure, 154 (27.6%) immediate and 404 (72.4%) delayed. Contralateral procedures included 106 augmentations, 168 reductions, 240 mastopexies, and 37 augmentation-mastopexies. Revision of the symmetry procedure was performed in 114 (20.8%) patients. Augmentation and mastopexy were associated with significantly higher revision rates when performed immediately. The complication rate was higher in immediate contralateral procedures than delayed [15 (9.7%) vs 16 (4.0%), P = 0.01]. The average number of procedures per patient was significantly higher in delayed contralateral procedures than immediate (2.45 vs 1.84, P < 0.0005). In summary, approximately half of patients undergoing a unilateral free flap for breast reconstruction will also undergo a contralateral balancing procedure. Immediate contralateral augmentation and mastopexy carry a higher revision rate and consideration should be given to performing them in a staged fashion. There were no differences in the rate of revisions for breast reductions, and therefore, performance of simultaneous contralateral reduction is a reasonable option. Although complication rates were higher in the immediate cohort, overall “symmetry” was achieved in significantly fewer operations.

From the Department of Plastic Surgery, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX.

Received October 23, 2012, and accepted for publication, after revision, February 5, 2013.

Conflicts of interest and sources of funding: none declared.

Reprints: Jesse C. Selber, MD, MPH, Department of Plastic Surgery, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1400 Pressler St, Unit 1448, Houston, TX 77030. E-mail:

© 2015 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins