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Cutting-Edge Plastic Surgery Benefits Mastectomy Patients

Armen Hareyan's picture

Plastic Surgery

Breast cancer patients who need mastectomies have more reconstructive surgery choices than ever before, yet too few survivors are choosing these options, says a leading expert in plastic surgery.

Reconstructive surgery's principle benefit is an improved overall quality of life for patients who have had a mastectomy to surgically remove one or both breasts, says Dr. Michael Miller, director of the division of plastic surgery at Ohio State University Medical Center.

"About 50 percent of mastectomy patients are candidates for reconstructive surgery, yet nationwide only about 10 percent receive it. Our goal is to integrate reconstructive surgery into the entire treatment plan for the patient; it should not be an afterthought," says Miller, a nationally recognized plastic surgeon who specializes in cancer reconstruction at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Ohio State.

Studies have shown that reconstructive surgery is safe and does not interfere with treatment or increase the risk of recurrence of breast cancer, Miller says.

A lack of knowledge about the surgical methods of reconstruction available - both on the part of patients and physicians - may be partly to blame for the low number of women who choose to undergo reconstructive surgery, Miller says.

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"Reconstruction may involve artificial implants, which remain a suitable option for selected women. Newly developed techniques use a woman's own tissue, giving a natural look and minimizing long-term complications," says Miller.

Miller prefers to meet with patients soon after their initial diagnosis, to pre-plan reconstruction based on individual medical needs and personal preferences. Certain types of cancer treatment - particularly radiation - may affect reconstructive surgery options.

"If we know ahead of time that the patient will require radiation, we may change our plans for reconstructive surgery because radiation changes tissue that's been treated, making it less able to undergo surgery reliably," Miller says.

He often works alongside a surgical oncologist in the operating room during the mastectomy surgery. Once the breast tissue has been removed, Miller will perform the reconstructive surgery, filling the remaining breast skin with the patient's own tissue that has been removed from the lower abdomen, buttocks, thighs or back.

"This way, patients never have to be without a breast, and they have the best chance of having a breast very similar in appearance to before the surgery," Miller says. "There are a variety of ways that breast cancer reconstruction can be done, and it's important for patients to realize that there is no single best option for everybody."

Miller suggests that breast cancer patients who are considering a mastectomy initiate a discussion with their oncologist and ask the following questions: