The Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator (DIEP) flap procedure, a breast-reconstruction method that uses the patient’s own tissue, is gaining popularity among breast-cancer patients.

Unlike the more common transverse rectus abdominis muscle (TRAM) flap procedure, in which an abdominal muscle is removed (along with the surrounding skin and fat) and used to rebuild the breast, the DIEP flap leaves abdominal muscles in place, and takes only skin and fat to create the new breast. Abdominal vessels are then microsurgically reattached to the mammary artery and vein, providing blood and nutrients to the relocated fat.

Is there a downside to the DIEP flap procedure? Yes—its cost. It can run up to $30,000 per breast. Federal law requires that the insurance cover breast reconstruction, although many companies use loopholes to avoid paying.

[www.nydailynews.com, April 6, 2006]