An outcome analysis comparing the thoracodorsal and internal mammary vessels as recipient sites for microvascular breast reconstruction: A prospective study of 100 patients

Steven L. Moran, Guillermina Nava, Amir H. Benham, Joseph M. Serletti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


The thoracodorsal vessels have been the standard recipient vessels for the majority of surgeons performing free transverse rectus abdominis musculocutaneous (TRAM) flap reconstructions. Recently, the internal mammary vessels have been recommended as the first-choice recipient vessels for microvascular breast reconstruction. This approach requires a shorter pedicle length, allows for central placement of flap tissue, and avoids axillary scarring. The use of the internal mammary vessels may provide for a shorter operative time and a higher-quality aesthetic reconstruction. The authors performed a prospective trial examining the differences in operative and aesthetic outcomes between each recipient site. A prospective trial of 108 consecutive free-tissue transfers was conducted in 100 patients. The first 60 TRAM flap patients were randomized so that 30 flaps were anastomosed to the internal mammary vessels and 30 were anastomosed to the thoracodorsal vessels, whereas the recipient vessels for the remaining 40 patients were left to the discretion of the surgeon. Of the 40 nonrandomized patients, 10 patients underwent reconstruction using the internal mammary vessels and 30 patients underwent reconstruction using the thoracodorsal vessels. The patients' medical history and hospital course were noted. To evaluate aesthetic outcome, a group of five blinded nonmedical observers and three blinded plastic surgeons graded the reconstructions in the 60 TRAM flap patients for symmetry and overall aesthetic result on a scale of 1 to 5. Blinded practitioners administered postoperative questionnaires to patients regarding recovery time and satisfaction with the aesthetic result. Forty-three flaps were transferred to the internal mammary vessels and 65 were transferred to the thoracodorsal vessels. No significant differences existed between groups with regard to age of preoperative risk factors. Average operative time was 6 hours in each group. Average hospital stay was 5.8 days in each group. Conversion from initial recipient vessel to a secondary recipient site occurred in 12.5 percent of internal mammary reconstructions and 7 percent of thoracodorsal reconstructions. All converted internal mammary cases occurred in left-sided reconstructions and were attributable to problems with the veins. Overall, 20 percent of left-sided internal mammary reconstructions were found to have an inadequate recipient vein. Unusable thoracodorsal vessels were found only in delayed reconstructions, at a rate of 15 percent in the delayed setting. All flaps from converted procedures survived without complications. Average follow-up was 20 months, during which time there was one flap loss in the thoracodorsal group. There were no significant differences in complication rates between groups. Average aesthetic grade was 3.6 in each group. Postoperative recovery time and overall patient satisfaction were not significantly different between groups. Either recipient site can provide for a safe and acceptable result; however, surgeons should be aware of conversion rates and plan appropriately if recipient vessels appear unusable for free-tissue transfer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1876-1882
Number of pages7
JournalPlastic and reconstructive surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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