What is a TUG flap? A TUG flap, also known as the transverse upper gracilis flap, is a newer form of breast reconstruction that uses tissues from the inner thigh to reconstruct the breast. Skin and fat are taken from the inner thigh, leaving a well-concealed scar in the inner thigh similar to that seen with a cosmetic thigh lift. This skin and fat gets its blood flow from the underlying gracilis muscle. The skin, fat, and muscle are transferred from the inner thigh to the breast where the blood flow is re-established using microsurgery.
This means that the inner thigh tissues are transferred to the breast area and their blood vessels reconnected under a microscope to maintain blood flow. Surgeons, operating room teams, and hospitals that have significant experience with microsurgery perform the TUG flap. Candidacy for a TUG flap is determined by the specific anatomy of the inner thigh, previous thigh surgery, body weight and aesthetic expectations. The TUG flap does not provide as much volume for breast reconstruction as a free TRAM or DIEP flap. With a TUG flap, the reconstructed breast may be 50-90% as large as the original breast before mastectomy, but an implant and abdominal scar are avoided. The TUG flap may be safer for patients who are moderately obese (35-40) and can also be performed in patients of normal body weight.
TUG Flap Video
In appropriate cases, the TUG flap is an excellent option for breast reconstruction with the patient’s own tissues when she is not a candidate for or does not want a DIEP, SIEA, free TRAM or latissimus flap.
Reconstructive timeline with TUG flap:
- First operation: Breast reconstruction with TUG flap(s) ± mastectomy
- Office visits: Drain removals and wound checks.
- 3 months*: “Touch up” cosmetic appearance of TUG flap if required; possible balancing procedure on other side. Possible fat grafts to optimize breast contours.
- 6 months*: Nipple reconstruction. Possible fat grafts to optimize breast contours.
- 8 months*: Areola (pigmented circular area that surrounds the nipple) reconstruction with tattoo.
- 12 -24 months*: Laser or IPL scar therapy.
* If you are having an immediate TUG flap (mastectomy and TUG flap at the same time) and chemotherapy is required, please add 4 months to the timeline. If radiation therapy is also required, please add 9 months to the timeline.
Anesthesia: A TUG flap is performed with the patient under general anesthesia.
Length of procedure: 4 to 5 hours for one breast, 6 to 8 hours for two breasts.
Estimated recovery time: Hospitalization is usually 4 to 7 days. You can return to work after 4 to 6 weeks depending on your job, and should avoid vigorous activities for 6 weeks. Visible bruising and swelling should begin to improve within 3 weeks. Recovery time, however, is highly variable and depends on your health before surgery and history of smoking and radiation therapy. Unless you have an allergy, you will be required to take aspirin for one year after surgery. To learn how to prepare for a TUG flap breast reconstruction and what to expect afterwards, click here to download our patient instructions.
Side effects: Common side effects include bruising and swelling. Blood flow to your flap will be carefully monitored after surgery. If there are concerns about the flap, you may require reoperation to assess the blood flow. You may have some early weakness in the thigh muscles, which should resolve. Some transient lower leg swelling and delayed wound healing in the inner thighs may occur.