Sensibility following Innervated Free TRAM Flap for Breast Reconstruction
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BACKGROUND: The free transverse rectus abdominis musculocutaneous (TRAM) flap has proven to be a reliable means of recreating the aesthetic breast form after mastectomy. The purpose of this study was to determine whether neurotization of the free TRAM flap improved sensation of the reconstructed breast. METHODS: Twenty-seven patients undergoing 37 free TRAM flap reconstructions were randomized to receive either an innervated (12 patients, 18 breasts) or a noninnervated flap (15 patients, 19 breasts). A nerve repair between the T10 intercostal of the TRAM flap and the anterior sensory branch of the fourth intercostal nerve was performed for innervation. Sensory testing (Semmes-Weinstein monofilaments, hot-cold discrimination, two-point discrimination) was performed by one blinded examiner in a standardized pattern. RESULTS: Mean follow-up was 16 months. Demographic analysis revealed no significant differences in patient age, height, smoking, radiation therapy, and nipple-areola reconstruction between patient groups (p > 0.3). Patients in the noninnervated group, however, were heavier (p = 0.03). Preoperative sensation was not significantly different in the noninnervated and innervated groups. Postoperative pressure threshold and temperature discrimination were significantly improved in the innervated flaps (p < 0.05). Noninnervated flaps displayed a pattern of increasing sensibility from the center toward the periphery while innervated flaps regained sensation throughout. CONCLUSIONS: Innervation of the free TRAM flap provides improved sensation to the reconstructed breast and is a simple adjunct to breast reconstruction.
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