Nipple-areola complex reconstruction
Author: Mia Demant, MD
Nipple-areolar complex (NAC) reconstruction is a critical component of breast reconstruction surgery following mastectomy. The areola, with its pigmentation and texture, plays a vital role in achieving a natural aesthetic outcome. This text delves into some of the techniques and advancements in areolar nipple reconstruction, providing you with insights to enhance your skills and knowledge.
The areola not only contributes to the visual appeal of the breast but also holds emotional significance for patients, as it restores a sense of normalcy and femininity. Therefore, properly executed NAC reconstruction can significantly improve the overall satisfaction and psychological well-being of breast reconstruction patients.
Thorough patient assessment is crucial before performing areolar nipple reconstruction. Considerations should include skin quality, color, symmetry, patient preferences, and the type of previous reconstructive surgery performed. Detailed preoperative planning ensures personalized approaches for each patient, leading to optimal outcomes.
Techniques in NAC reconstruction
Skin grafting: Utilizing the patient’s own skin from an inconspicuous area, such as the inner thigh, to create a natural-looking areola.
Allografts: Using commercially available skin grafts or xenografts to create the areola. These options can be particularly helpful when the patient lacks suitable donor sites.
C-V flap: A local flap technique involving a circular incision around the nipple site, creating a raised areolar mound:
Star flap: Employing multiple triangular flaps to create a star-like areolar shape.
Achieving realistic areolar pigmentation through tattooing techniques. This is often the final step in areolar nipple reconstruction to enhance color and texture.
Surgical technique: C-V flap
- Patient Evaluation: Assess the patient’s breast shape, size, symmetry, and skin quality. Consider the patient’s preferences and discuss the ideal size, shape, and location of the new nipple-areolar complex.
- Marking: Mark the desired nipple position (ideally together with the patient who is standing in front of a mirror), areolar size, and shape on the breast. The nipple position is often marked at the center of the new breast mound.
- Administer appropriate local anesthesia, i.e. epinephrine mixed with lidocain.
- The incision line of the C-V flap is drawn at the marked new nipple position.
- One C flap and two V flaps are elevated together preserving dermis and fatty tissue.
- The donor defects of the V flaps are initially closed, and then the two V flaps are crossed to form the side wall of the new nipple.
- The C flap covers the top of new nipple to complete the reconstruction. Non-absorbable suture like Surgipro 5-0 is used and removed after approximately 10 days.
Dressings and Postoperative Care:
- Apply sterile dressings (i.e. a “chimney dressing” to avoid “collapsing” of the new nipple).
- Provide postoperative instructions to the patient, including wound care and activity restrictions.
- Postoperative care involves monitoring for complications such as necrosis, infection, poor healing, or color fading. Patient counseling is essential to manage expectations and ensure understanding of the healing process, potential revisions, and the role of tattooing in achieving the final aesthetic result.