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Health Check: Breast cancer reconstruction

Health Check: Breast cancer reconstruction. (NBC 10 Photo)

The latest innovation for women battling breast cancer. And it’s being done in Rhode Island, at Women & Infants Hospital.

This new technology is for women who have had a mastectomy to remove all breast tissue, who plan to, in a second operation, have reconstructive surgery.

"It was scary because there was always the 50/50 chance that I could have tested positive," said 23 year old Kristen Hopp about a genetic test she took to see if she tested positive for the BRCA gene which puts a woman at high risk for breast cancer. Her mother, Denise, took the test after her mother died of breast cancer and tested positive, opting for a double mastectomy to erase her risk.

So when Hopp’s test came back positive, she examined her options.

"It was either we could watch it really closely, you know, there were options. Did you want to do the surgery or you know you're really so young so it's up to you, whatever you want to do."

So, on September 20th, at the age of 23, Hopp, like her mother, had a double mastectomy.

"My thought was I'm young, I'm healthy, I'm going to bounce back if I do the surgery now and why wait for something to happen."

"Women are making that choice more often today," said Dr. Jennifer Gass, Hopp’s breast surgeon at Women & Infants.

"We have to create a space for the implant to go. Of course it's going in the space where the breast was."

Then Hopp’s plastic surgeon, Dr. Andrea Doyle did her part, placing an expander in that space that allows Kristen to determine her desired breast size. But this was a new type of expander.

"This is the first time I've used the air expander. Traditionally we use saline filled tissue expanders," said Doyle.

The saline tissue expander means doctor's visits and needle injections every week to slowly fill the expander with saline. But that can take months.

This new expander can be filled with CO2, or air, every day by the patient at home. No needles.

"So the antenna inside couples with the dosage controller with magnetic microvalve technology," Doyle explains, doing a little show and tell with the AeroForm Tissue Expander System.

The CO2 reservoir is inside this silicone shell, she says, and can deliver up to 30 cc’s a day by the patient.

"She can dose control at home," said Doyle.

Choosing this option, a no-brainer for Hopp.

"It was going to be less painful for me to go bigger and it was going to be less visits for me to go to the doctor."

"Really the air expander can be used in almost all patients who require two stage breast reconstruction," said Doyle.

Especially, she says, for those undergoing chemotherapy.

"Doing a needle stick introduces a risk for infection, especially in patients whose immune system may be compromised because of the chemo," said Doyle.

A few other up sides to this air expander. It's lighter and so much more comfortable for the patient. And reconstructive surgery can be done in weeks rather than months.


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