Unlike implants, which are artificial objects, a breast created with your own living tissue depends upon a consistent, healthy flow of blood to survive—blood vessels in the tissue flap are reconnected to existing blood vessels in the chest, which bring oxygen and nutrients to the new breast. Without actually viewing the blood vessels involved in a tissue flap reconstruction, however, plastic surgeons can’t be sure which vessels are strongest and provide the best chance of success.
The SPY Elite Imaging System® takes the guesswork out of the equation. It’s one example of a technological innovation that helps plastic surgeons work with greater precision, shortens operating intervals, and streamlines procedures.
Using SPY, a plastic surgeon can observe a patient’s blood flow in real-time. First, a laser lights up harmless dye that is injected into the patient’s bloodstream. Then, using a special SPY scanner, the surgeon can see which blood vessels are more robust: vessels with a strong blood flow are illuminated, while weakened vessels remain dark. The SPY equipment is small and mobile. It can be quickly set up, and does not expose the patient to radiation.
SPY can be used before, during or after breast reconstruction surgery:
- Pre-operatively, it eliminates guesswork as to which blood supply to the new breast is the most robust, and therefore has the best chance of thriving.
- During surgery, it provides a way to assess blood circulation after blood vessels in the flap are connected to blood vessels in the chest. The plastic surgeon can watch the dye as it flows into the flap in the artery, lights up the tissue, and returns back to the vein.
- After surgery, it is a valuable tool for monitoring blood circulation in the new breast. (It is also a good way to monitor circulation to the skin flaps left after mastectomy.) If necrosis (tissue death) develops in a portion of a flap, SPY can pinpoint the precise problematic blood vessel.
Combined data from 12 different studies of SPY showed that among tissue flap breast reconstruction patients, rates of necrosis (tissue death) were 4% or less among surgeons who used SPY, compared to 10-25% among surgeons who did not.
SPY is also FDA-approved for use in other cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries, as well as other microsurgeries, including heart bypass procedures, gastrointestinal operations, and organ transplants.