Unipedicled TRAM Breast Reconstruction

Updated: Apr 12, 2016
  • Author: Michael R Zenn, MD, MBA, FACS; Chief Editor: James Neal Long, MD, FACS  more...
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Overview

Background

Breast reconstruction entered the modern era with the introduction of the transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap in 1982 by Hartrampf, Scheflan, and Black. This ingenious procedure reliably transfers autogenous tissue from the abdomen for breast reconstruction and has the added benefit of abdominal rejuvenation. See the image below.

Blood supply to the unipedicled transverse rectus Blood supply to the unipedicled transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap. Note the superior epigastric supply and the shaded area of the TRAM flap to be discarded.

This procedure now constitutes 25-50% of breast reconstructions performed in the United States, and the TRAM flap has proven the autogenous tissue of choice for breast reconstruction.

The main advantage of the procedure lies in the consistency of the reconstructed breast; it is similar to the natural breast in softness and in the way the tissue drapes on the chest. Because the tissue is part of the patient's body, it does not incite foreign body reaction or capsular contractures, which have plagued implant reconstructions. Furthermore, since scars fade and tissues soften, the reconstruction only improves over time, which is not true of implant reconstructions. When performed properly in the properly selected patient, the TRAM flap procedure produces a breast reconstruction superior to any other technique.

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Indications

Transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap reconstruction may be considered in any patient who is undergoing mastectomy as either an immediate procedure (at the time of mastectomy) or as a delayed procedure (sometime after mastectomy). If chest wall radiation has been or will be part of the patient's therapy, reconstruction is delayed. [1] The patient must be psychologically motivated and have adequate tissues in the abdominal area to be considered for a TRAM flap. Although implant reconstruction and tissue reconstruction may be considered for any patient, some relative indications favor the TRAM flap procedure.

  • Radical mastectomy defect with large tissue requirement
  • History of radiation to the chest wall
  • Large opposite breast (difficult to match with an implant)
  • Small opposite breast (difficult to match with an implant)
  • Previous failure of implant reconstruction
  • Excess lower abdominal tissue and patient desires abdominoplasty
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Relevant Anatomy

The flap skin and fat of a single pedicle transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap reconstruction survive on perforators through the rectus abdominis muscle. Although this muscle has a dual blood supply, the superior epigastric artery and the inferior epigastric artery, this operation relies only on the superior epigastric arterial system. Because of the distant nature of this blood supply, only tissues directly over or immediately adjacent to the muscle have adequate vascularity. If more tissues are needed, consider other procedures (midabdominal TRAM, delay procedure, double pedicle TRAM, super-charged TRAM, free TRAM flap, deep inferior epigastric perforator [DIEP] flap).

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Contraindications

The transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap operation is major surgery and should not be undertaken lightly by the patient or surgeon. Over fifteen years of experience with these procedures enables the author to identify certain characteristics that place patients at higher risk for complications.

Because of the magnitude of the procedure and the degree of stress on the lungs and heart, this operation may unmask baseline cardiopulmonary disease and result in a complicated course for the patient. In addition, anything that causes small vessel disease, such as the medical conditions listed above, diabetes, or cigarette smoking, may cause complications in the transferred tissue and in the abdominal donor site. Any of the above characteristics contraindicate a TRAM flap, thus the surgeon should seek another method of reconstruction.

Patients who wish to have more children should be advised to consider another method of reconstruction, although this is not an absolute contraindication. Many reports exist of patients who have undergone TRAM experiencing full-term natural childbirth; the concern mostly centers on the diminished compliance of the abdominal wall, especially when synthetic mesh was used. Patients who desire no or little muscle to be removed with the TRAM flap should consider a free TRAM flap, deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap, or superficial inferior epigastric artery (SIEA) flap. [2]

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