BACKGROUND: Phalloplasty is performed as genital gender-affirming surgery in transmasculine persons. It requires the harvest of sizeable autologous fasciocutaneous flaps, which is associated with donor-site morbidity and extensive scarring. Flap preexpansion has been used to facilitate wound closure and reduce scarring, but the efficacy of flap preexpansion in phalloplasty is unclear. The objective of this study was to assess the safety and effectiveness of preexpansion before phalloplasty.
METHODS: Transmasculine persons who underwent phalloplasty between December 2006 and July 2014 at our institution were identified and invited to participate. A chart review was performed to obtain patient demographics and expander-related complications. Outcomes regarding the donor-site scar (Patient Observer Scar Assessment Scale, scar size, patient satisfaction) were measured at the outpatient clinic and compared between transmasculine persons treated with and transmasculine persons treated without preexpansion.
RESULTS: Of 33 transmasculine persons who underwent phalloplasty, 17 underwent preexpansion. Phalloplasty techniques included the use of the radial forearm free flap, the anterolateral thigh flap, or a combination of both. In total, 34 tissue expanders were placed in the forearm (n = 12) and/or thigh (n = 22). Complications occurred in 18 (52.9%) of 34 tissue expanders and in 13 (76.5%) of 17 transmasculine persons. Seven reoperations were performed because of extrusion (n = 2), infection (n = 2), port failure (n = 2), or leakage (n = 1). Sixteen transmasculine persons visited our clinic for scar assessment (8 with and 8 without preexpansion). Primary closure was achieved in 4 (31%) of 13 expanded donor sites. Relative scar size was reduced when the wound could be closed primarily, but overall scar size, quality, and satisfaction did not differ significantly between groups.
CONCLUSION: Donor-site expansion before phalloplasty was associated with high rates of expander-related complications and expander failure. Primary closure of the donor site was achieved in less than a third of the cases. Primary closure may potentially lead to smaller scars and greater satisfaction; however, we concluded that the potential advantages of preexpansion do not outweigh the high risk of complications and lack of success.