YOUR HEALTH: Less painful, more private breast reconstruction

MIAMI, Florida – Ana Alvarez is busy working and taking care of her aging mother.  But she never thought she would be the one needing help.

"I found out I had breast cancer when I went for a regular mammography."

Ana was shocked and scared.

"I spent like probably about a week, I didn't tell anybody," she recalled.

After careful thought, she decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy, followed by reconstruction.

BACKGROUND: One in eight women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer found in women, and the second leading cause of cancer death among women as well. Each year it is estimated over 252,000 will be diagnosed and more than 40,000 will die. Breast cancer in men is rare, but an estimated 2,400 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 460 will die each year.

"The gold standard is to perform some type of reconstruction at the time of the cancer treatment," explained Dr. Jaime Flores, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

Dr. Flores says reconstruction means using tissue expanders to prepare the area for breast implants.

"I always tell my patients this is one of the most painful procedures we do."

That is until now.

Traditional "expanders" required patients to have the implants injected with saline at the doctor's office.

"And they would go home and have pain for two to three days."

Now new technology, called Aeroform. is changing the way expanders work.

Using a controller pre-set by the doctor, the patient administers small amounts of compressed CO-2 into the expander three times a day.   Patients control the size they want to expand from the comfort of home.

Ana loved the convenience.

"It was so easy and so manageable. There was no pain involved."

Aeroform also allows patients to fully expand and be ready for reconstructive surgery in half the time as the traditional saline expanders; three weeks compared to almost two months.

The FDA-approved device is covered by insurance.

TREATMENT: Three types of standard treatment are used to treat patients with breast cancer. These are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. These treatments may vary based on the patient, the stage of the disease, and whether or not the patient is pregnant. Treatments may cause side effects. Surgery to remove the cancer may be a lumpectomy, partial mastectomy, segmental mastectomy, quadrantectomy, or breast-sparing surgery. Many women choose to have reconstruction surgery, but it may not be the right choice for everyone. There are different options and types of procedures, and some are done (or started) at the same time as mastectomy, while others are done later. Silicone or saline breast inserts are one type of operation, as is using a patient`s own body tissues. Sometimes both are used in combination to reconstruct a breast.   (Source: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/reconstruction-surgery/breast-reconstruction-options.html)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.