Management of the nipple-areola complex is an important issue in primary breast reconstruction. When nipple-sparing mastectomy is not suitable, alternatives are immediate nipple-areola complex replantation and delayed reconstruction. The aim of this study was to examine whether patients benefit more from nipple-areola complex preservation by immediate replantation or delayed nipple-areola complex reconstruction.
Postoperative results and patient satisfaction after 54 primary breast reconstructions with immediate nipple-areola complex replantation or delayed nipple-areola complex reconstruction were retrospectively evaluated.
The nipple-areola complex was replanted immediately in 37 cases and reconstructed later with nipple sharing and full-thickness skin grafting in 17 cases. Compared with immediate replantation, delayed reconstruction resulted in significantly better postoperative nipple projection (P = 0.01*, Mann-Whitney U test), greater similarity of color and projection with the contralateral side and greater patient satisfaction (Breast-Q). Complete loss of projection occurred in 4 of the 37 replanted nipple-areola complexes. No complete nipple-areola complex necrosis or tumor recurrence was observed in any patient.
Immediate nipple-areola complex replantation is a safe and reliable procedure for selected patients with contraindications for nipple-sparing mastectomy who have a strong desire to maintain their own nipple-areola complexes, or in bilateral cases. However, drawbacks of this procedure include loss of projection and depigmentation. Delayed reconstruction with nipple sharing and full-thickness skin grafting is a good alternative, especially in unilateral cases; it leads to better postoperative results and greater patient satisfaction, but it involves a nipple-areola complex-free period.