More than 100,000 women have cancerous lumps removed from their breasts each year in the United States. These operations, lumpectomies, often are done instead of mastectomies, which take the whole breast. But they often leave deformities because as much as a third of a woman's breast may be removed.
"It's almost a euphemism" to call it a lumpectomy, said Dr. Sydney Coleman, a plastic surgeon at New York University.
The defect "initially may not be as noticeable" but it often gets worse, especially if the woman also has radiation treatment, said Dr. Sameer Patel, a reconstructive surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
"There's a growing push to try to involve the plastic surgeon particularly for this reason — to try to avoid a defect," but once one develops, options to repair it are limited, Patel said.
The new approach to repair these defects is still experimental, but holds promise for millions of women left with cratered areas and breasts that look very different from each other after cancer surgery. It also might be a way to augment healthy breasts without using artificial implants. So far, it has only been tested on 21 women in a study in Japan. But doctors in the United States say it has great potential.
"This is a pretty exciting topic right now in plastic surgery," said Dr. Karol Gutowski of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "There are people all over the country working on this." At the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, researchers at the Adipose Stem Cell Center are exploring post-cancer breast reconstruction.
The Japanese study was reported at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The company that developed the treatment, San Diego-based Cytori Therapeutics, plans larger studies in Europe and Japan next year.
The implants sold today are for reconstructing breasts after mastectomies. They aren't designed to fix odd-shaped deformities from lumpectomies or radiation.
"Each one is so different, there's no little thing you can just pop in there," Gutowski explained.
In the Japanese study, doctors liposuctioned fat from 21 breast cancer patients' tummies, hips, or thighs. Half was reserved as the main implant material; the rest was processed to extract stem cells and combined with the reserved fat. This was injected in three places around a breast defect.
Eight months after treatment, "about 80 percent of the patients are satisfied" with the results, said the lead researcher, Dr. Keizo Sugimachi of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan.
Illustration: Adipose tissue. –Wikipedia.
Houston Chronicle (12/15/07)
Associated Press (12/15/07)
International Herald Tribune/France (12/15/07)
Wired News (12/16/07)
USA Today (12/16/07)
News-Medical Net (12/19/07)
Abstract (30th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, 12/13-16/07, Poster Session IV (12/15/07): Treatment: Breast Conservation (7:00 AM-9:00 AM))
Adipose Stem Cell Center, University of Pittsburgh