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Medical innovations: Breast cancer reconstruction after a mastectomy

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MURRAY, Utah (News4Utah) – Breast cancer affects one in eight women in the United States. As part of treatment, some women choose to have a mastectomy, or removal of the breast tissue.

Following a mastectomy, many women are presented with options on breast reconstruction, which typically takes place during or soon after mastectomy, and in some cases, lumpectomy.

Breast reconstruction also can be done many months or even years after mastectomy or lumpectomy. During reconstruction, a plastic surgeon creates a breast shape using an artificial implant (implant reconstruction), a flap of tissue from another place on your body (autologous reconstruction), or both.

It’s hard to predict how women will react to losing a breast as part of the mastectomy. It’s normal for women to feel anxious, uncertain, sad, and mournful about giving up a part of their body that was one of the hallmarks of becoming a woman: a significant part of their sexuality, what made them look good in clothes, how they might have fed their babies.

Following the mastectomy, women need to figure out what is best for them. Historically, women getting breast reconstruction surgery have had implants placed behind the pectoral muscle. However, as they move that muscle, it moves the implant making it uncomfortable for the woman and causing the implant to move abnormally compared to a normal breast.

Suzanne Wirthlin went in for a routine mammogram at age 41. What she learned, stopped this avid marathon runner in her tracks.

“It was a pretty large area of the breast was cancerous, about 80 percent of the left side,” said Suzanne.

With family history and peace of mind, Suzanne decided on a double mastectomy.
Dr. Hijjawi placed the implants in front of the chest muscle. The quicker recovery allowed Suzanne to run the Boston Marathon several months later.

Dr. Hijjawi at Intermountain Medical Center was one of the first few doctors in the country to use the advanced technique well before it was considered the standard of care 10 years ago. Only recently has the method caught on.

He now teaches other surgeons across the country this method. Dr. Hijjawi urges patients who undergo mastectomies and looking for breast reconstruction to seek a board certified plastic surgeon who provides a wide set options for the best outcome for you and your lifestyle.

Now, roughly 25 percent of implants done as part of breast reconstruction are done placing the implant in front of the pectoral muscle, using a piece of cadaver skin as an under the skin sling to hold the implant in place.

This new procedure allows the breast to have a more normal look and movement, and allow women who are active to remain active – much like the women who ran in the Boston Marathon months after her reconstructive surgery.

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