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YOUR HEALTH: Creating 3-D breasts for mastectomy patients

ORLANDO, Florida – Cancer patients who undergo mastectomies may choose to have breast reconstruction.   Others may decide to skip further surgery and opt for a prosthesis.

That's what Helen did.

Shopping for bras used to be a challenge for Helen Battaglia Commodori but that's nothing compared to fighting breast cancer, not once but twice.

First, in 1986 at age 35.

"Ten years to that month in June 1996 it recurred in that same breast. Stage two," she said.

"At that point I opted for double mastectomy with reconstruction."

One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

Infection after surgery meant the implants had to come out.

Now, twenty years later, Helen is turning to new technology to redefine her shape.

Doctors put soft stickers on Helen's chest and torso in the first step of a three-dimensional scanning process.

Certified mastectomy fitter Elisa Lawson uses her tablet to record a precise image of Helen's chest.

Until recently, patients would have to undergo a molding process.

"When this process started 15 years ago we came in with a bucket of water and plaster and literally wrapped mesh around patients," explained Lawson.

Now it's fifteen minutes of digital imaging, and several weeks of production time for a prosthesis that's a perfect fit.

"The beauty of the custom breast form is that we're recreating on the back of the form the image of the chest wall, so it fits like a puzzle," says Lawson.

HOW IT WORKS: Elisa Lawson says they take an iPad and scan around the patient, moving from the right to the left side and creating a virtual body cast with the scanner.   It's not only faster and easier but Lawson says women are going to be able to choose skin tones that match their tones better, they're going to be able to choose nipple diameters, they can project the nipples, they can flatten nipples giving it characteristics that aren't currently in a traditional form.

"They're lightweight," said Helen.   "They're comfortable.  You'd never know I didn't have breasts."

The breast forms are covered by most private insurance companies.

Lawson says the custom designed prosthetic breasts are lightweight and can be worn in swimwear.

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.

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