Breast reconstruction with the TRAM flap: pedicled and free

J Surg Oncol. 2006 Nov 1;94(6):532-7. doi: 10.1002/jso.20492.


Background: Breast cancer is a ubiquitous disease affecting one in seven women. While breast conservation techniques are available for local control of the disease for many patients, not all patients are good candidates for these techniques. Mastectomy, therefore, remains a common method of breast cancer treatment. Methods of reconstruction include implant reconstruction and autogenous reconstruction. The advantages of autogenous reconstruction include the creation of a soft, ptotic breast mound, which tends to match a native contralateral breast both in and out of bra support. Autogenous reconstructions do not tend to change with time and usually do not require periodic revision as seen in implant reconstructions.

Methods: The most common method of autogenous reconstruction is the TRAM flap, either pedicled or free. The TRAM flap employs the redundant excess lower abdominal tissue typically removed during a cosmetic abdominoplasty. This tissue is brought to the mastectomy defect as a pedicled flap, passing subcutaneously from the upper abdomen and into the defect site. The pedicled flap is based upon the superior epigastric vessels. A free TRAM is harvested with the overlying muscle and the attached inferior epigastric vessels. This flap is completely separated from the abdomen and brought to the chest defect where it is anastomosed to either the thoracodorsal or internal mammary vessels. The donor defect within the abdominal wall is repaired with an inlay mesh with both the pedicled and free techniques.

Results: Patient selection criteria usually help determine which technique is used. The advantage of the free flap technique is improved blood supply to the skin island. The free flap, therefore, is used in patients at higher risk for partial flap loss with the pedicled technique. Such high-risk patients include smokers, the obese, patients with significant medical comorbidities, and patients with prior abdominal surgery. Patients without these risk factors can be expected to achieve good results with either the pedicled or free flap technique.

Conclusion: Autogenous breast reconstruction with the TRAM flap achieves long lasting satisfactory results in most patients with the creation of a soft, naturally ptotic breast mound, which typically matches well a contralateral native breast.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anastomosis, Surgical
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Epigastric Arteries / transplantation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Care
  • Mammaplasty / methods*
  • Mammary Arteries / surgery
  • Mastectomy
  • Patient Selection
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / methods
  • Postoperative Care
  • Rectus Abdominis / transplantation
  • Surgical Flaps* / blood supply