Revisiting the Free Nipple Graft: An Opportunity for Nipple Sparing Mastectomy in Women with Breast Ptosis



Nipple areolar complex (NAC) sparing mastectomy improves the cosmetic outcome of patients with breast cancer. However, women with significant breast ptosis are not candidates for this technique due toexcessive skin flap length and ensuing risk of NAC ischemia.1 3 We report a novel technique using free nipple graft during skin sparing mastectomy for patients with significant ptosis while concurrently maintaining oncologic integrity.


Case series.


Community and tertiary care hospital practices.


Women with breast cancer desiring NAC preservation who are otherwise candidates for nipple sparing mastectomy, but with significant breast ptosis that precludes NAC viability. All women underwent immediate, autologous breast reconstruction.


Bilateral and unilateral free nipple grafts were harvested, placed on ice during skin sparing mastectomy and free flap reconstruction, grafted at the conclusion of the case and secured with a bolster.

Outcome Measures

Full or partial NAC preservation, ischemia time, local wound complications at NAC grafting site, pathologic outcomes.


A total of three patients underwent free nipple grafting at the time of skin sparing mastectomy and free or pedicled flap for breast cancer between March and September 2012. Of five total nipple grafts, one had partial NAC loss but did not require operative debridement. Pathologic review of areolar tissue removed during intraoperative defatting of free nipple graft demonstrated residual duct epithelium.


Women with significant breast ptosis that would preclude them from NAC sparing mastectomy can successfully preserve their NAC using a free nipple graft. Duct epithelium present in defatted tissue during preparation of the free nipple graft suggests that oncologic integrity can also be maintained.


  1. 1.

    Kijima Y, et al. Oncoplastic surgery combining partial mastectomy with breast reconstruction using a free nipple-areola graft for ductal carcinoma in situ in a ptotic breast: report of a case. Surg Today. 2011;41(3):390–5.

  2. 2.

    Spear SL, Pelletiere CV, Wolfe AJ, et al. Experience with reduction mammaplasty combined with breast conservation therapy in the treatment of breast cancer. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2003;111(3):1102–9.

  3. 3.

    Kijima Y, Yoshinaka H, Ishigami S, Hirata M, Kaneko K, Mizoguchi T, et al. Oncoplastic surgery for Japanese patients with ptotic breasts. Breast Cancer. 2010;18(4):273–81.

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Author information

Correspondence to Jeremy R. Chidester MD.

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Chidester, J.R., Ray, A.O., Lum, S.S. et al. Revisiting the Free Nipple Graft: An Opportunity for Nipple Sparing Mastectomy in Women with Breast Ptosis. Ann Surg Oncol 20, 3350 (2013).

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  • Breast Cancer
  • Nipple
  • Nipple Areolar Complex
  • Reduction Mammaplasty
  • Areolar Tissue