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imageBackground: Complications after immediate breast reconstruction pose a significant challenge to the reconstructive surgeon. Known risk factors include smoking, obesity, age, and adjuvant oncologic therapies. Less is known about the association between axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) and the development of postoperative complications.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective study of all patients who underwent immediate breast reconstruction after mastectomy at our institution over a 10-year period. Our outcome was an occurrence of a major complication within 90 days postoperatively. For each patient, we recorded data on demographics, smoking status, pertinent medical history, reconstruction type, adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation, tumor pathology, and whether an ALND was performed. Odds ratios (OR) were calculated to estimate the risk of a complication if an ALND was performed.
Results: One hundred eighty-four women, with 270 surgically treated breasts, were identified as having mastectomy with immediate reconstruction between 2002 and 2012. Mean age was 49.4 years (range, 25–84 years). There were 71 mastectomies with ALND performed, with 22 complications, and 199 mastectomies without ALND, with 20 complications (31% complication rate vs 10%, respectively; OR, 3.84; P < 0.001). When adjusted for reconstruction type, smoking history, obesity, age, presence of invasive disease, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, the OR for complications was 3.49 (P < 0.01). The most common complication was infection in both groups.
Conclusions: Mastectomy with ALND is associated with a 3-fold increase in risk of major complications in women undergoing immediate breast reconstruction, even after adjustment for known risk factors and confounders. Further studies are warranted to elucidate how ALND leads to these complications and what measures can reduce their occurrence.

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