Background: Prior radiation therapy to the chest, in theory, has a detrimental impact on the recipient vessels in breast reconstruction and may impact microvascular success. The purpose of this study was to determine whether prereconstruction radiation therapy affects the rate of vascular complications in free flap breast reconstruction. Methods: This was a retrospective review of free flap breast reconstruction performed between 2005 and 2009 by the senior authors. In addition to medical and surgical history, vascular complications were recorded, including intraoperative and postoperative thromboses and technical difficulties resulting in a variation of the standard approach. Results: In total, 226 flaps were placed into an irradiated field, whereas 799 were transposed into a radiation-naive defect. Vascular complications as a whole were more prevalent in the irradiated group (9.6 percent versus 17.3 percent; p = 0.001). In regression modeling, radiation therapy was identified as an independent risk factor (odds ratio, 1.68; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.04 to 2.70). In subanalysis, there is a significantly higher rate of intraoperative vascular complications (7.6 percent versus 14.2 percent; p = 0.003), although individual outcomes did not reach formal significance. Previous irradiation had no effect on delayed vascular complications, flap loss, fat necrosis, infection, skin flap necrosis, hematoma, seroma, or delayed wound healing. Conclusions: Prereconstruction radiation therapy increases the rate of vascular complications in free flap breast reconstruction, the majority of which appear intraoperatively. Although radiation does not hinder the overall success of reconstruction or contribute to postoperative complications, surgeons should be aware that working in a previously irradiated field carries additional technical risk.
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