There are many types of breast reconstruction available, a good number of which utilize the body’s natural skin tissue as part of the reconstruction process. Occasionally, through no fault of the surgeon, problems with the body’s blood supply or response to this tissue can ultimately create some degree of failure in the reconstruction.

However, new techniques that involve imaging during and after the surgery are emerging; these techniques may be able to accurately assess the probability of the skin flap’s success, and allow surgeons a greater chance to correct any problems that arise.

Utilization Of Skin Flaps

Flaps of skin are predominantly used to help cover areas where tissue has been lost or damaged, or where defects have arisen. This includes tissue damage from traumatic injuries, cancer treatments or congenital defects.

Surgeons who are reconstructing a breast after a mastectomy most often utilize existing skin tissue in order to construct a new breast. These grafts can be cultivated from a woman’s own abdominal tissue, which is directly removed and subsequently transplanted to the area of the breasts, where it can be manipulated to take the appearance and shape of a natural breast.

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The Problem With Skin Flap Failure

These skin flaps are used in complicated procedures that need post-operative monitoring in order to ensure that the skin flaps do not fail.

Many failures are generated from circulation problems, through either blocked or insufficient arterial blood supply. This compromises the health of the skin flap, which may ultimately fail.

How Spectral Imaging Can Help

A technique known as near infrared (NIR) spectral imaging is rising in popularity as a method of predicting ultimate surgical success. NIR spectral imaging is a relatively easy, non-invasive method which surgeons can utilize in order to examine skin flaps throughout the surgery, as well as the earliest stages of the post-operative period.

NIR spectral imaging works by accurately detecting and locating any complications in the blood supply, which can give real time feedback to the surgeon, who can more quickly respond to the situation.

Results From The Research

Early results for the imaging method have been largely positive. After running a series of pre-clinical trials involving NIR spectral imaging, researcher Dr. Sowa concluded that imaging measurements made throughout the surgery and post-operative early stages can be highly predictive of the skin flap’s ultimate success. He describes the specificities and sensitivities as exceeding 85 percent.

In addition, the technique of oxygenation imaging, when utilized immediately after surgery, can show strong predictive power for the onset of possible tissue necrosis. The accuracy of this type of imaging’s predictive success increases as measurements are implemented later on in the post-operative period. When measurements are made one or two hours after the surgery has been completed, the imaging becomes an excellent predictor of the ultimate fate of the skin flap tissue.

Predicting the success of skin flaps can be challenging for surgeons, but NIR spectral imaging and oxygenation imaging are making it easier. Through these imaging techniques, surgeons will enjoy a greater chance of skin flap reconstruction success.