New method for rebuilding breasts after cancer

January 25, 2010 9:56:09 AM PST
Over 254,000 women in the United States face breast cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Surgery is usually the first line of attack against the cancer. Thanks to advances in surgery, women now have the option of surgery that removes only part of the breast tissue, which is referred to as breast conservation surgery, lumpectomy or segmental mastectomy. Some cases still require a mastectomy to achieve the best results. Many women who undergo a mastectomy choose to have reconstructive surgery to rebuild the shape and look of the breast. Breast reconstruction is done by a plastic surgeon.Some breast reconstructions can be performed at the same time as the mastectomy. An advantage to this approach is that chest tissues are not damaged by radiation therapy or scarring, and the final result ends up looking better. Delayed breast reconstruction is a better choice for some women who need radiation to the chest area after surgery, since radiation therapy after reconstruction surgery can lead to complications.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends patients seeking breast reconstruction look for a physician who:

* Has completed at least five years of surgical training with a minimum of two years in plastic surgery

* Is trained and experienced in all plastic surgery procedures, including breast, body, face and reconstruction

* Operates only in accredited medical facilities

* Adheres to a strict code of ethics

* Fulfills continuing medical education requirements

* Is board certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery

NEW OPTIONS: While there are many options for breast reconstruction, including saline-filled implants and tissue flap procedures -- which involve using tissue from other areas of the body -- some women don't have enough tissue left in the chest after surgery to hold heavy implants or tissue transplants in place. Doctors are now using synthetic mesh and other methods to solve the problem. Recently, doctors have started using a product made of donated human skin called AlloDerm for this purpose. Regulated by the FDA, the tissue matrix helps extend and support natural tissues to hold implants in place. Since human cells are removed from AlloDerm before it is used, the risk of disease and rejection by the body is very low, experts say.


Valerie Wencis Public Relations Massachusetts General Hospital