October was national breast cancer awareness month. The NFL celebrated with NFL Pink’s A Crucial Catch. By teaming up with the American Cancer Society, and by wearing pink caps and gloves, the focus is on the importance of annual screenings, especially for women who are 40 and older.
Who Gets Breast Cancer?
Worldwide, 1.5 million people are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. The importance of self-examination and mammograms cannot be overstressed. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the cure rates, and the smaller the need for mastectomy. Controversy in the timing and number of mammograms has been highlighted here on the San Francisco Plastic Surgery Blog, and as new technology and detection strategies develop, these recommendations will change. We will continue to add our voice to San Francisco Breast Cancer Awareness.
What Can a Plastic Surgeon Do?
Plastic surgeons usually get involved after the diagnosis of breast cancer is made. I have been involved on both sides of the stethoscope, personally and professionally. The diagnosis is made worse by not knowing what to expect. Once the diagnosis is made, and the plan is selected; however, being able to contribute with breast reconstruction can be a big positive.
What Options Are Available for Breast Reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction in 2011 consists of two main options: Breast implants or breast flaps. Breast reconstruction with a breast implant is often begun at the time of mastectomy. The advantage of this immediate reconstruction is the ability keep a breast mound despite the mastectomy. Sometimes the reconstruction is better delayed until after the initial other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.
Breast flaps include local rearrangement of skin, fat and even muscle from the abdomen and back, as well as microvascular transplantation. These operations can also be either immediate or delayed. They require additional surgical time and the healing of a “donor site”, but can avoid some of the complications associated with a breast implant.
What’s on the Horizon for Breast Reconstruction?
New technologies are also being explored. Fat and stem-cell grafting are being explored as “less invasive” methods of breast reconstruction, but these still remain controversial and should only be performed as part of a well planned and IRB reviewed investigation until more is known.
Another novel method involves a little of all the above. An Australian company, Neopec, uses a temporary implant, a flap of fat and a special gel to enhance cell growth, in an attempt to fill the space created by the implant and eventually form a new breast mound made of the patients own fat cells.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month – All Year Long
While it is nice to help restore that which is lost, it is better to treat breast cancer early before a mastectomy is necessary. So as Breast Cancer Awareness month draws to a close, and we continue to Walk for Breast Cancer and Race for the Cure, please remember your mammogram and to do a brief monthly self breast exam for the other eleven months, too.