Reconstructive Plastic Surgery

Skin Flap Surgery

Some forms of cancer can spread to other areas of the body as they grow. Cancer can spread to the lymph nodes via a person’s lymphatic system.

The spread of cancer to a new part of the body is called metastasis. Cancer cells can travel to other areas of a person’s body through their lymphatic system.


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What is skin flap surgery?

A skin flap is similar to a graft in that tissue is transplanted. The essential difference is that a flap has its own blood supply. With a flap, larger amounts of tissue can be used, including muscle if required. The surgical technique to harvest and to move this tissue is complex. The surgeon has to harvest not just the block of tissue to be moved, but also the blood vessels (arteries and veins) that feed the tissue block. Compared to a graft, a flap requires more planning and more surgical skill.

Why is it done?

Skin grafts and flaps can be used to treat a number of different conditions. The most common are:

  • Extensive trauma
  • Chronic wounds
  • Severe burns
  • Areas of prior infection
  • Reconstructive surgery following major surgery for cancer

What are the benefits of having skin flap surgery?

Skin flap surgery generally provides excellent aesthetic results. In order to do this however, you require good cancer clearance. You may need multiple stages of additional surgery to shape the tissue flap and ongoing surveillance may be more difficult for Doctors that are not familiar with this type of surgery.


Bathing or Showering

Your doctor will let you know when it is OK to bathe after surgery. Keep in mind:

  • You may need to take sponge baths for 2 to 3 weeks while your wounds are in the early stages of healing.
  • Once you get the OK to bathe, showers are better than baths because the wound does not soak in water. Soaking your wound could cause it to reopen.
  • Be sure to protect your dressings while you bathe to keep them dry. Your doctor may suggest covering the wound with a plastic bag to keep it dry.
  • If your doctor gives the OK, gently rinse your wound with water as you bathe. Do not rub or scrub the wound. Your doctor may recommend special cleansers to use on your wounds.
  • Gently pat dry the area around your wound with a clean towel. Let the wound air dry.
  • Do not use soaps, lotions, powders, cosmetics, or other skin care products on your wound unless told to do so by your doctor.

At some point during the healing process, you will not need a dressing anymore. Your doctor will tell you when you can leave your wound uncovered and how to care for it.


When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if:

  • Pain gets worse or does not improve after taking pain relievers
  • You have bleeding that won’t stop after 10 minutes with gentle, direct pressure
  • Your dressing becomes loose
  • Edges of the flap start to come up
  • You feel something bulging out of the flap site

Also call your doctor if you notice signs of an infection, such as:

  • Increased drainage from the wound
  • Drainage becoming thick, tan, green, or yellow, or smells bad (pus)
  • Your temperature is above 37.8°C for more than 4 hours
  • Red streaks appear that lead away from the wound
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More information

What else you should know

Where is it done?

Simple skin grafts and flaps can be done as same-day surgery. More complex procedures are done in an overnight hospital.

How long does it take?

It varies enormously depending on the type, size and situation. A simple skin graft may take less than an hour, whilst a complicated flap could take as long as 10 to 12 hours.

Who is involved?
  • A plastic and reconstructive surgeon
  • Possibly an assistant surgeon
  • Anaesthetist
  • Nurses
  • Physiotherapist/Occupational Therapist
How will the RPS team manage my post-operative care?

Your RPS team will give you specific advice regarding your individual post-operative recovery. They will advise:

  • where you will go after your surgery
  • what medication you will be given or prescribed
  • what bandages and dressings you will need and when they’ll be removed
  • if you require stitches, when they’ll be removed
  • when you can get back to normal activity and exercise
  • when to book your follow-up care.
Our Canberra specialists

The team at RPS Canberra are committed to providing you with the best possible outcome.

The extensive specialist skills of our surgical team ensure that you are provided with surgical options designed to maximise form and function.

Our surgeons hold an impressive array of academic credentials, extensive professional experience and a personal commitment to patient satisfaction.