While MUSC has emerged as a leader in breast reconstructions, we draw from a long history of medical work. For nearly as long as doctors have tried to stop the spread of cancer by removing a woman’s breasts, there have been attempts at restoration.
The first came at the end of 1800s, a few years after the first radical mastectomy, and involved using the woman’s own tissue. Through the first half of the 1900s, surgeons worked to improve techniques, and in some cases, achieved success, but the procedures required multiple operations over an extended period, caused extensive scarring and had high failure rates.
By the 1970s, breast implants became a more popular alternative in reconstructions. Yet surgeons continued to try new approaches to rebuilding a woman’s breast with natural tissue, and in the 1980s, they tapped into what was an excellent source of excess tissue in most women – the abdomen. The TRAM procedure – which is still an option today – involves using a flap of tissue from the abdomen that remains connected to the body. Yet, TRAM surgery involves the loss of abdominal muscle and as a result has distinct drawbacks.
Knowing that women needed better alternatives, MUSC’s plastic surgeons have helped to pioneer and refine a new generation of sophisticated breast reconstruction procedures, including DIEP, which originated in Charleston, SC. With DIEP, doctors use advanced microsurgery to remove a flap of abdominal tissue while leaving the muscle intact, then attach the tissue to the chest to shape one – or even two – new, living breasts.
As a result of our success, we perform as many as 400 breast reconstruction and revision procedures a year at MUSC, leading us to officially establish the MUSC Advanced Breast Reconstruction Program. It is a center of excellence born from our plastic surgeons’ accomplishments and our continual efforts to change what’s possible for women in the aftermath of cancer.