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How DIEP Flap Reconstruction Creates a More Natural Breast

June 05, 2023

Breast cancer treatment and survivorship has made major gains over the last few years. And along with it, breast reconstruction options.

Here’s what you need to know about the latest breakthroughs in breast reconstruction – even if you had implants in the past – according to Elizabeth Stirling Craig, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Hartford HealthCare’s Cancer Institute at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.

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Breasts can be reconstructed using your own natural tissue.

While breast cancer patients have several options for breast reconstruction, surgeons like Dr. Craig offer a newer procedure called DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforators) flap breast reconstruction.

The end result? A breast that looks more natural in shape, size and position.

If you use abdominal tissue, you’ll get a tummy tuck as well.

“With DIEP flap surgery, we usually take fat from the abdominal area and reattach it to where the breast was removed,” Dr. Craig explains. “The patient then gets a tummy tuck where the tissue was removed. It’s often considered a ‘mommy makeover’ of sorts.”

Patients have options with the fat removal – it can also be taken from the thigh, buttock or back – but the tummy area is most common.

The DIEP flap procedure is done in the hospital and typically involves a 2-3 day stay. Overall recovery takes about 3-4 weeks.

> Related: 5 Mammogram Myths That Shouldn’t Stop You From Being Screened

Breast reconstruction doesn’t have to happen immediately.

Most breast cancer patients opt for reconstruction right after having a mastectomy. But some patients choose to wait.

“I have had patients come back three or four years later,” says Dr. Craig. “Sometimes there’s just too much going on at that time and it’s too overwhelming. Patients will table it for a time when things are settled and they’re more equipped to take it on.”

The good news for those who wait is that insurance generally covers the procedure at any time in a patient’s life.

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Your cancer team is here to help with planning and decisions.

One aspect of cancer care that Dr. Craig is passionate about is the truly multidisciplinary approach.

“I work closely with the oncology, breast surgery and radiation oncology teams,” she explains. “I have an integral dialogue and understanding with all of these people, and the patient, as to not interfere with the cancer treatment itself.”