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Davis Journal

DIEP Flap method of reconstruction an option after mastectomy

Oct 19, 2023 12:14PM ● By Becky Ginos
Tenisha Tucker underwent DIEP surgery a year ago to reconstruct her breasts after a double mastectomy. A year after the procedure, Tucker is back to normal activity. Courtesy photos

Tenisha Tucker underwent DIEP surgery a year ago to reconstruct her breasts after a double mastectomy. A year after the procedure, Tucker is back to normal activity. Courtesy photos

SALT LAKE CITY—One in eight women will get a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 300,000 new cases will be diagnosed in women in 2023. Not only is the diagnosis traumatic, but for women, the thought of losing their hair or possibly losing a breast can be overwhelming because that is such a part of their self image.  

Studies show that more than 70 percent of women don’t know all of their options for reconstruction if they have a mastectomy or lumpectomy. “In general, 70-75% use implants and they look really good and are pretty safe,” said Dr. Christopher Shale, Intermountain Healthcare plastic and reconstructive surgeon. “Some patients say they don’t want them because they look terrible, etc. But 60 percent don’t get all their options which can lead to a lot of complications with self image. We want to alleviate some of the fear besides the diagnosis of cancer.”

One of the other options is Microvascular Breast Reconstruction using DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) method that rebuilds the breast using a patient’s skin and fatty tissue and only takes the skin, fat, blood vessels and sensory nerves, he said.

“This living tissue reconstruction done at Intermountain facilities, leaves the muscle,” said Shale. “With these DIEP or DIEP Flaps, abdominal wall complication rates drop so it is a huge winner with our patients.”

Tenisha Tucker went to her doctor in February of 2022 to be checked out for fibroid issues. “She said before we plan to remove the fibroids let’s do a blood test to see if you carry the cancer gene,” said Tucker. “I have a lot of history of cancer in my family. When I told her my dad had breast cancer it alarmed her. The test came back positive for the PALB2 gene mutation. That made me at risk for breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer. I had well over a 50% chance of getting cancer.”

Tucker was no stranger to cancer. “My great grandma had breast cancer,” she said. “My grandma had breast cancer and survived and my dad had breast cancer and survived it. My cousin had the same gene and found out when she was already at stage 4. My great aunt passed away from ovarian cancer and my aunt passed away from breast cancer. My great uncle on my dad’s side passed away from pancreatic cancer.” 

With that history, Tucker opted for a hysterectomy. “They also recommended a double mastectomy,” she said. “I thought, ‘wow do I remain flat or get implants?’ I didn’t want implants in me. I’d heard stories, some good, some bad.”

The doctors told her there was another option, DIEP Flap. “It is another form of reconstruction using the stomach tissue to create a boob out of your own tissue,” said Tucker. “They did a double mastectomy and the reconstructive surgery all at once. It took eight hours and there were four doctors. One doctor did the mastectomy and the other three worked on me doing reconstruction. It cuts down the time that you’re under.”

Tucker just celebrated her one year anniversary since having the surgery. “Now I’m able to do every activity I did before the surgery,” she said. “I’m very glad I don’t have to worry about contracting breast cancer or ovarian cancer.”

It was a very, very long process, said Tucker. “There were times I started feeling down but it’s amazing how our bodies can heal. I had bad experiences but overall it was a good experience. It wasn’t hard for me because I watched my family go through cancer – some survived, some didn’t.”

Tucker encourages both men and women to get screened. “Even if you’re a man it’s more common than you think,” she said. “My dad opted for a single side mastectomy. It was horrible to watch him go through chemo and radiation.”

If there’s any kind of cancer in the family, get a blood test for the gene, said Tucker. “Then you’ll have the knowledge to know what to look for.”

Tucker found out about the gene when she was 42 years old, she’s 44 now. “My aunt on my mom’s side passed away from breast cancer at 42. I went through a lot. I had to have physical therapy and I have scars but that’s better than going through being sick and possibly not making it.”