Alternative venous outflow vessels in microvascular breast reconstruction
The lack of adequate recipient vessels often complicates microvascular breast reconstruction in patients who have previously undergone mastectomy and irradiation. In addition, significant size mismatch, particularly in the outflow veins, is an important contributor to vessel thrombosis and flap failure. The purpose of this study was to review the authors' experience with alternative venous outflow vessels for microvascular breast reconstruction. In a retrospective analysis of 1278 microvascular breast reconstructions performed over a 10-year period, the authors identified all patients in whom the external jugular or cephalic veins were used as the outflow vessels. Patient demographics, flap choice, the reasons for the use of alternative venous drainage vessels, and the incidence of microsurgical complications were analyzed. The external jugular was used in 23 flaps performed in procedures with 22 patients. The superior gluteal and transverse rectus abdominis musculocutaneous (TRAM) flaps were used in the majority of the cases in which the external jugular vein was used (72 percent gluteal, 20 percent TRAM flap). The need for alternative venous outflow vessels was usually due to a significant vessel size mismatch between the superior gluteal and internal mammary veins (74 percent). For three of the external jugular vein flaps (13 percent), the vein was used for salvage after the primary draining vein thrombosed, and two of three flaps in these cases were eventually salvaged. In three patients, the external jugular vein thrombosed, resulting in two flap losses, while the third was salvaged using the cephalic vein. A total of two flaps were lost in the external jugular vein group. The cephalic vein was used in 11 flaps (TRAM, 64.3 percent; superior gluteal, 35.7 percent) performed in 11 patients. In five patients (54.5 percent), the cephalic vein was used to salvage a flap after the primary draining vein thrombosed; the procedure was successful in four cases. In three patients, the cephalic vein thrombosed, resulting in two flap losses. One patient suffered a thrombosis after the cephalic vein was used to salvage a flap in which the external jugular vein was initially used, leading to flap loss, while a second patient experienced cephalic vein thrombosis on postoperative day 7 while carrying a heavy package. There was only one minor complication attributable to the harvest of the external jugular or cephalic vein (small neck hematoma that was aspirated), and the resultant scars were excellent. The external jugular and cephalic veins are important ancillary veins available for microvascular breast reconstruction. The dissection of these vessels is straightforward, and their use is well tolerated and highly successful.