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Reshaping You With You: A Reconstruction Option for Breast Cancer Patients

Sep 09, 2015 10:57AM ● By Cate Reynolds
Having one of your breasts removed as a result of breast cancer is a devastating experience. Breast reconstruction surgery to restore the appearance of your breasts after undergoing a mastectomy is an important part of the healing process and can offer a sense of comfort by improving your appearance, increasing your self-esteem, and enhancing your quality of life. Although there are various options available, one procedure that you may want to consider is fat grafting—also called autologous fat transfer—an alternative to breast implants.

“Our team focuses on natural beauty, and the fat transfer procedure provides a more natural appearance,” says Kelly Sullivan, M.D., F.A.C.S., medical director and breast specialist at Sullivan Integrated Aesthetic Center in Annapolis. “The procedure helps restore the form, symmetry, and appearance of the breasts and is a confidence boost for breast cancer patients.”

The Procedure

During the fat transfer procedure, fat tissue is removed from other parts of your body, usually your thighs, belly, and buttocks, via liposuction. The tissue is then processed into liquid and injected into your breast area to recreate it. To obtain the desired result, the procedure is performed at least three times over a period of several months. The number of procedures required depends on how much fat is available and the size of the breast desired. (Surgeries are typically scheduled four to six months apart.) The minimally invasive procedure is performed under general anesthesia and takes about one-and-a-half to two hours.

“The fat transfer procedure is an excellent and rewarding reconstructive option for patients undergoing surgery for cancer treatment,” says Sullivan. “For patients whose recovery has been complicated by radiation treatment or an infection, fat transfer reconstruction can be an invaluable tool for more difficult and complex cases. It is also an option when a straightforward ‘primary’ reconstruction has not produced optimal results in the eyes of either the patient or treating plastic surgeon.”

If you’re considering breast reconstruction surgery, the fat transfer procedure may be an option for you. Since it uses your own tissue instead of an implant, your breasts will feel more natural. In fact, many women who have undergone the procedure have reported that their reconstructed breast has some sensation and feels similar to their other breast. Other benefits include minimal scarring and a relatively short recovery time. In addition, the liposuction performed provides body contouring and slimming of another area of your body. This can be beneficial since chemotherapy treatment used for breast cancer can cause weight gain.

The Importance of a Consultation

Although the fat transfer procedure is not a new technique, it has only been available in the United States for about 10 years and is typically not widely available in private practice settings because not all plastic surgeons have been trained to perform it. In addition, no large clinical studies with long-term follow up have been conducted. Although small studies report good results, it’s uncertain if the procedure will work for all women or how long the results will last. So if you’re considering the fat transfer procedure, it’s critical that you consult a board-certified plastic surgeon who has the training to determine if you’re a good candidate for the procedure and the expertise to perform it. (Sullivan trained at Emory University in Atlanta and is renowned for her expertise in breast reconstruction surgeries, including the fat transfer procedure.)

Since Sullivan always puts safety first, she devotes a great deal of time to a thorough consultation to address your concerns and answer all of your questions. Obviously, breast reconstruction surgery is a very personal decision, and there is no one right answer. So Sullivan believes strongly in having a candid conversation to discuss all of the options available in detail. During the consultation, she explains the procedures as well as the benefits and potential risks associated with them. This consultation is very important because it allows Sullivan to work closely with you to create a breast reconstruction surgery plan that matches your specific goals and lifestyle.

“I find my work so gratifying because I have the honor and privilege of helping someone when they are feeling very down, scared, and embarrassed,” says Sullivan. “I have the ability to offer a procedure that can rebuild both body and spirit. Given that the mental [effect] is just as important as the physical in cancer treatment, this reconstructive option helps patients ‘beat’ their cancer. As a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, I truly enjoy helping individuals feel better about themselves and their outlook on life. I am very grateful for that opportunity.”

–Lisa A. Lewis

What’s Up? does not give medical advice. This material is simply a discussion of current information, trends, and topics. Please seek the advice of a physician before making any changes to your lifestyle or routine.

To learn more about the fat transfer procedure or schedule a consultation, contact Sullivan Integrated Aesthetic Center at 410-571-1280.