BACKGROUND: Health-related quality of life (HRQL) is an important outcome following breast reconstruction. This study evaluated current methods of HRQL assessment in patients undergoing latissimus dorsi breast reconstruction, hypothesizing that early surgical morbidity would be reflected by poorer HRQL scores. METHODS: Patients completed the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) QLQ-C30 and breast module (QLQ-BR23), the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy (FACT) general measure, and breast module and arm subscale (FACT-B + 4), and the Body Image Scale and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) 3 months after surgery. They also reported additional HRQL problems not included in the questionnaires. HRQL scores were compared between patients with and without early surgical morbidity. RESULTS: Sixty women completed the questionnaires, of whom 25 (42 per cent) experienced complications. All EORTC and FACT subscale and HADS scores were similar in patients with or without morbidity. Women with complications were twice as likely to report feeling less feminine and dissatisfied with the appearance of their scar than those without problems. Thirty-two women (53 per cent) complained of problems not covered by the questionnaires, most commonly donor-site morbidity. CONCLUSION: Existing HRQL instruments are not sufficiently sensitive to detect clinically relevant problems following breast reconstruction. (c) 2009 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd.