Phalloplasty is the construction or reconstruction of a penis, or the artificial modification of the penis by surgery. This surgery can help transgender men be comfortable in their own bodies. The term phalloplasty is also occasionally used to refer to penis enlargement.
- Techniques and related procedures
- Graft from the arm
- Graft from the side of the chest
- Graft from the leg
- Pubic area flap
- Gillies technique
- Abdominal muscle
- Subcutaneous soft silicone implant
- Common complications
The first phalloplasty done for the purposes of sexual reassignment was performed on trans man Michael Dillon in 1946 by Dr. Harold Gillies, which is documented in Pagan Kennedy's book The First Man-Made Man.
The Russian surgeon Nikolaj Bogoraz performed the first reconstruction of a total penis using rib cartilage in a reconstructed phallus made from a tubed abdominal flap in 1936. The first female to male gender reassignment procedure was performed in 1946 by Sir Harold Gillies on fellow physician Michael Dillon, and his technique remained the standard one for decades. Later improvements in microsurgery made more techniques available.
A complete construction or reconstruction of a penis can be performed on patients who:
Techniques and related procedures
There are four different techniques for phalloplasty. All of the techniques involve taking a graft of tissue from a donor site and extending the urethra.
Surgery for biological males is simpler than for female-to-male transgender patients, because the urethra requires less lengthening. The urethra of a trans man ends near the vaginal opening and has to be lengthened considerably. The lengthening of the urethra is when most complications occur.
With all types of phalloplasty in trans men, scrotoplasty can be performed using the labia majora (vulva) to form a scrotum where prosthetic testicles can be inserted. If vaginectomy, hysterectomy and/or oophorectomy have not been performed, they can be done at the same time.
Unlike metoidioplasty, phalloplasty requires an implanted erectile prosthesis to achieve an erection. This is usually done in a separate surgery to allow time for healing. There are several types of erectile prostheses, including malleable rod-like medical devices that allow the neo-penis to either stand up or hang down. Penile implants require a neophallus of appropriate length and volume in order to be a safe option. The long term success rates of implants in constructed penises are less than the success rates of reconstruction in men born with penises. Good sensation in the reconstructed penis can help reduce the risk of the implant eventually eroding through the skin.
Earlier techniques used a bone graft as part of reconstruction. Long-term follow-up studies from Germany and Turkey of more than 10 years proved that these reconstructions maintain their stiffness without late complications. Unfortunately, it results in a penis that has no ability to become flaccid again without breaking the internal bone graft.
Lengthening can also be achieved by a procedure that releases the suspensory ligament where it's attached to the pubic bone, thereby allowing the penis to be advanced toward the outside of the body. The procedure is performed through a discreet horizontal incision located in the pubic region where the pubic hair will help conceal the incision site. No incision is made on the penis itself.
As of November 2009, there is research in progress to synthesize corpora cavernosa (erectile tissue) in the lab on rabbits for eventual use in patients requiring penile construction surgery. Of the rabbits used in the preliminary studies, 8 of 12 had biological responses to sexual stimuli that was similar to the control, and four caused impregnation.
Graft from the arm
An operation using the forearm as a donor site is the easiest to perform, but results in a cosmetically undesirable scar on the exposed area of the arm. Arm function may be hampered if the donor site does not heal properly. Electrolysis and/or laser hair reduction is required for a relatively hairless neophallus.
Sometimes a full-scale metoidioplasty is done a few months before the actual phalloplasty to reduce the possibility of complications after phalloplasty. Sensation is retained through the clitoral tissue at the base of the neophallus, and surgeons will often attempt to graft nerves together from the clitoris or nearby. Nerves from the graft and the tissue it has been attached to may eventually connect. This does not necessarily guarantee the ability to achieve genital orgasm after healing, as the most important task of nerve reconnection is to ensure the penis is able to sense injury.
The following explanation of this technique has many similarities to other approaches, but the construction of the glans differs.
If the patient chooses to have the urethra extended to the glans of the neophallus, it is formed by the following steps:
Graft from the side of the chest
A relatively new technique involving a graft from the side of the chest under the armpit (known as a musculocutaneous latissimus dorsi free transfer flap) is a step forward in phalloplasty. The advantages of this technique over the older forearm flap technique include:
This is a three part surgery that takes place over a period of six to nine months. The steps consist of:
Neophallus creation using MLD free ﬂap
During initial recovery, the neophallus is protected from contact with other tissues with a specially constructed dressing as to avoid blood supply complications.
After three months, urethroplasty (urethral extension) is performed.
After another three to six months, a device that allows an erection can be inserted.
Graft from the leg
The lower leg operation is similar to forearm graft with the exception that the donor scar is easily covered with a sock and/or pants and hidden from view. Other details are same as forearm graft, especially the need for permanent hair removal before the operation. A graft from the leg or another area where the scar is less noticeable may be combined with free forearm graft to sculpt the glans penis.
Pubic area flap
The graft location is around the pelvic bone, usually running across the abdomen under the belly button. As such, there is a large horizontal scar that may not be aesthetically acceptable. The grafts have a less natural appearance and may not maintain an erectile implant long term. Electrolysis is required before surgery with the alternative being clearing of hair via shaving, or chemical depilatory.
This technique was pioneered by Sir Harold Delf Gillies as one of the first competent phalloplasty techniques. It was simply a flap of abdominal skin rolled into a tube to simulate a penis, with urethral extension being another section of skin to create a "tube within a tube." Early erectile implants consisted of a flexible rod. A later improvement involved the inclusion of a blood supply pedicle which was left in place to prevent tissue death before it was transplanted to the groin. Most latter techniques involve tissues with attached pedicle.
Skin grafted muscle flaps have fallen from popularity. This procedure is a minimum of 3 steps and involves implantation of an expansion balloon to facilitate the amount of skin needed for grafting. The grafts have a less natural appearance and are less likely to maintain an implant erectile long term.
Subcutaneous soft silicone implant
This phalloplasty procedure, is the insertion of a subcutaneous soft silicone implant under the penile skin. The procedure was developed by urologist James J. Elist.
In the future, bioengineering may be used to create fully functional penises.
As phalloplasty has improved over the decades, the risks and complications from surgery have been reduced. However, there is still a possibility of a need for revision surgery to repair incorrect healing.
A study of post-op men showed that on average, 25% had one or more serious complications of the neopenis. The ones reported consisted of:
In the same study, chances of complications of the extended urethra were higher, averaging 55%. The most common complications reported were: