The purpose of the present study was to determine whether contour abnormalities of the abdomen after breast reconstruction with abdominal flaps are related to the harvest of the rectus abdominis muscle. Abdominal contour was analyzed in 155 women who had breast reconstruction with abdominal flaps; 108 women had free transverse rectus abdominis muscle (TRAM) flaps, 37 had pedicled TRAM flaps, and 10 had deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flaps. The reconstruction was unilateral in 110 women and bilateral in 45 women. Three methods of muscle-sparing were used; they are classified as preservation of the lateral muscle, preservation of the medial and lateral muscle, or preservation of the entire muscle. One of these three methods of muscle-sparing was used in 91 women (59 percent) and no muscle-sparing was used in 64 women (41 percent). Postoperative contour abnormalities occurred in 15 woman and included epigastric fullness in five, upper bulge in three, and lower bulge in 10. One woman experienced two abnormalities, one woman experienced three, and no woman developed a hernia. Of these abnormalities, 11 occurred after the free TRAM flap, seven after the pedicled TRAM flap, and none after the DIEP flap. Bilateral reconstruction resulted in 11 abnormalities in nine women, and unilateral reconstruction resulted in seven abnormalities in six women. X2 analysis of the free and pedicled TRAM flaps demonstrates that muscle-sparing explains the observed differences in upper bulge and upper fullness (p = 0.02), with a trend toward significance for lower bulge (p = 0.06). X2 analysis of the free TRAM and DIEP flaps does not explain the observed difference in abnormal abdominal contour. Analysis of muscle-sparing and non-muscle-sparing methods demonstrates that the observed difference between the techniques is only explained for a lower bulge after the bilateral free TRAM flap (p = 0.04).
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