One of the most disliked parts of recovery from mastectomy with or without breast reconstruction is living with surgical drains.
Surgical drains—plastic bulbs with long tubing that is sutured into the skin at the incision sites—are more annoying and awkward than painful, but they can cause soreness where they enter the skin. (Accidentally tugging on the tubing or catching it on something can be very uncomfortable!) You’ll have at least one drain in each breast after mastectomy, and if you have breast reconstruction with a DIEP, TUG or other autologous tissue flap procedure, you’ll also have drains at your donor site. Managing the devices during recovery involves daily draining and measuring of accumulated fluids and disinfecting the tubing.
These temporary contraptions aid healing by siphoning off fluids from surgery sites. Without these drains, all that fluid would otherwise accumulate in your body, promoting swelling and infection and delaying healing. Until the early 1990s, patients stayed in the hospital until their drains were removed. Today, shorter hospital stays are emphasized and drains are managed at home.
Post-surgical drains may become a thing of the past for most mastectomy patients if clinical trials show that securing the mastectomy flap with TissuGlu Surgical Adhesive prevents excess fluid accumulation and improves healing without the use of drains. TissuGlu reduces the space between layers of adjacent tissues where fluids can collect, eliminating the need for surgical drains. After the layers heal, the adhesive breaks down into safe components that are then eliminated by the body naturally.
About 80 mastectomy patients in Germany and the U.K. are now participating in a phase I clinical trial of TissueGlu: half will be given traditional surgical drains, while the other half will be treated with TissuGlu and no drains. Each of the women will be followed up after 90 days. Researchers will tally and assess the number of clinical interventions related to fluid management and wound healing in both groups. Preliminary assessments indicate positive results.
TissueGlu has been used successfully in Germany for several years, both for mastectomy and other procedures involving tissue flaps. It was approved by the FDA in 2015 for use in the U.S., where it is primarily used after abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) procedures.
Note: See an earlier blog about surgical drains here.