Bacterial infection is the most common complication following staged post-mastectomy breast reconstruction initiated with a tissue expander (TE). To limit bacterial infection, antibiotic irrigation of the surgical site is commonly performed despite little high-quality data to support this practice. We performed a prospective randomized control trial to compare the impact of saline irrigation alone to a triple antibiotic irrigation regimen (1 g cefazolin, 80 mg gentamicin, and 50,000 units of bacitracin in 500 mL of saline) for breast implant surgery. The microbiome in breasts with cancer (n = 16) was compared to those without (n = 16), as all patients (n = 16) had unilateral cancers but bilateral mastectomies (n = 32). Biologic and prosthetic specimens procured both at the time of mastectomy and during TE removal months later were analyzed for longitudinal comparison. Outcomes included clinical infection, bacterial abundance, and relative microbiome composition. No patient in either group suffered a reconstructive failure or developed an infection. Triple antibiotic irrigation administered at the time of immediate TE reconstruction did not reduce bacterial abundance or impact microbial diversity relative to saline irrigation at the time of planned exchange. Implanted prosthetic material adopted the microbial composition of the surrounding host tissue. In cancer-naïve breasts, relative to saline, antibiotic irrigation increased bacterial abundance on periprosthetic capsules (P = 0.03) and acellular dermal matrices (P = 0.04) and altered the microbiota on both. These data show that, relative to saline only, the use of triple antibiotic irrigation in TE breast reconstruction does impact the bacterial abundance and diversity of certain biomaterials from cancer-naïve breasts. IMPORTANCE The lifetime risk of breast cancer is ~13% in women and is treated with a mastectomy in ~50% of cases. The majority are reconstructed, usually starting with a tissue expander to help restore the volume for a subsequent permanent breast implant or the women’s own tissues. The biopsychosocial benefits of breast reconstruction, though, can be tempered by a high complication rate of at least 7% but over 30% in some women. Bacterial infection is the most common complication, and can lead to treatment delays, patient physical and emotional distress and escalating health care cost. To limit this risk, plastic surgeons have tried a variety of strategies to limit bacterial infection including irrigating the pocket created after removing the breast implant with antibiotic solutions, but good-quality data are scarce. Herein, we study the value of antibiotics in pocket irrigation using a robust randomized clinical trial design and molecular microbiology approaches.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • bioinformatics
  • breast cancer
  • breast microbiome
  • clinical methods
  • clinical trials
  • human microbiome
  • microbiome
  • microbiota
  • postantibiotic effect


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