After breast reconstruction, nipple position and other long-term changes in the reconstructed breast relative to the contralateral breast remain poorly understood. In this prospective cohort study, the authors performed serial nipple position measurements over 5 years in patients who had undergone breast reconstruction with a transverse rectus abdominis musculocutaneous (TRAM) flap. The effects of adjuvant radiotherapy on nipple position over time were also investigated.
The authors studied 150 patients who had undergone nipple-sparing mastectomy, using radial incision followed by immediate unilateral pedicled TRAM flap breast reconstruction. Measurements of sternal notch–to-nipple, midline-to-nipple, and inframammary fold–to-nipple distances were performed 1 day before reconstruction and 6, 12, 36, and 60 months after surgery, on patients’ reconstructed and nonoperated breasts.
The average sternal notch–to-nipple distance increased in both reconstructed and nonoperated breasts at every follow-up visit, with an average difference of 0.393 cm at the 60-month visit (p <
0.0001). Comparing the pattern of distance change, reconstructed breasts tend to change more slowly than nonoperated breasts until 36 months postoperatively. In irradiated breasts, the sternal notch–to-nipple distance was significantly smaller than in nonirradiated breasts, and nipple position changed minimally between 1 and 3 years after surgery.
Nipple position in TRAM flap–reconstructed breasts changed over time compared with that in nonoperated breasts, especially along the vertical axis. The pattern of nipple position change in reconstructed breasts became similar to nonoperated breasts 3 years after surgery. In patients who had undergone adjuvant radiation therapy, nipple position remained consistent for 1 to 3 years.
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