What is reconstructive microsurgery?
With the aid of a high-magnification microscope, our skilled surgeons are able to use a patient’s own tissue to reconstruct parts of the body affected by cancer, known as reconstructive microsurgery.
After isolating tissue from one part of the body on an artery and vein, surgeons can completely detach the tissue and transfer it elsewhere in the patient’s body for reconstruction. Usually referred to as a “free flap,” this tissue may be composed of skin, fat, muscle or even bone, or a combination of these structures.
Free tissue transfer is accomplished with the aid of a microscope that allows magnification up to 50 times that of the naked eye. Using stitches finer than a single hair, surgeons are able to reconnect the tiny blood vessels from the free flap to recipient vessels in the area of the patient’s body affected by cancer. Because these blood vessels are very small, measuring 1-3 mm in diameter, the microscope enables surgeons to work with precision, and to avoid complications such as clotting or kinking.
The process of using a patient’s own tissue with healthy blood flow promotes healing, reduces scarring and creates a more natural-appearing reconstruction. The technique also minimizes damage to the area of the body (donor site) where tissue is removed, providing optimal surgical results, faster recovery and decreased rates of complications.
Reconstructive microsurgery for breast cancer
Using a woman’s own tissue is a common approach for building a new breast. The reconstructed breast can look and feel very natural. At CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, our medical director of reconstructive microsurgery, Dr. Aaron Pelletier, performs an operation called the deep inferior epigastric artery perforator (DIEP) flap for breast reconstruction. The procedure removes skin and fat from the lower abdomen while preserving the muscle.
Women who undergo DIEP flap breast reconstruction typically experience less pain and shorter recovery than other techniques that do not preserve the muscle. By minimizing damage to the donor site, abdominal wall integrity and strength can also be maintained.
For patients who have had previous abdominal surgery or who are not candidates for the DIEP flap, tissue can often be used from the thigh or buttock. Your surgeon will evaluate all potential options and work with you to devise a safe and effective reconstructive plan that meets your individual goals and needs.