The below question is answered by Dr. James Craigie of The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction.
How long should I wait to have a DIEP flap after radiation?
Radiation therapy is part of the treatment of breast cancer and will affect the results of breast reconstruction. The treatments can miraculously kill some growing cancer cells but they also change the area of the body left behind after surgery.
All of the elements of the body can be affected: blood vessels, scarring, healing function, and appearance. The effects of radiation occur in two phases. Short term occurs during and immediately after the treatments. Elective surgery at this time is not possible, for obvious reasons. The long term effects develop after the early “burn-like” injury “settles down.” The long term reaction occurs for approximately the first six months.
The experience can be widely different from one person to the next. We have experienced difficulties with the receiving blood vessels after radiation when we did not wait for the body to recover from both long and short term damage. These types of problems could possibly increase the chance for the new breast to fail. Avoiding these problems may be possible by waiting and that is why the long recovery is needed before reconstruction is started.
—Dr. James Craigie