New reconstructive surgery for breasts

August 19, 2010 3:27:02 PM PDT
American cancer society will inform almost 200-thousand women that they have breast cancer this year. However, with awareness and better treatment, more and more women are surviving it. Now, a new procedure uses a tummy tuck to help breast cancer survivors feel complete again.

Picking the perfect stone, choosing the right bead, and putting it all together: It is a mission of love for Helen Smith.

Breast cancer survivor Helen Smith comments, "I was trying to make it a breast cancer theme, type thing. My mom died of breast cancer. She got her first lump, I'm sorry, I get emotional. She was 35."

Helen tested positive for the breast cancer gene.

"It just like shatters your world just to hear it come out of their mouth."

It means she has an 80-percent risk of developing breast cancer. That number was too high for her to feel safe, so she had a bi-lateral mastectomy -- removal of all of the breast tissue.

Instead of traditional surgery, Helen had a new procedure where doctors use fat and skin from the patient's tummy to rebuild the breast. It is called "DIEP flap reconstruction" or deep inferior epigastric perforators.

Wong Moon is a reconstructive plastic surgeon MD from the grant medical center Columbus. She states, "The belly fat is more like breast tissue fat, in that sense, because it's thick."

The flap consists of tissue, blood vessels, skin and fat from a woman's lower abdomen. Surgeons disconnect the artery and veins in the abdomen and then re-attach them to the blood vessels in the armpit or chest wall.

Wong Moon said, "It will basically look and feel like a breast, and long-term wise, it will stay the same. It won't change over time."

Doctor Wong Moon says there is a five-percent failure rate. If that happens, an implant is needed to reconstruct the breast.

"If you don't have blood supply going into the fat, then the fat will die and basically turn black and then, you just remove it."

Recovery includes five days in the hospital and two months at home.

Helen Smith comments, "It was still my body. It was still my tissue."

It is a natural way for Helen to feel like herself again.

A traditional breast implants scars and changes over time. On average, women with implants will need to correct those changes about every five years. However, with DIEP, there is no need for corrections. DIEP is being used not only for breast cancer survivors, but also in Europe, they are also using it as an alternative to breast implants.