COLUMBUS, Ohio – When some women learn they have breast cancer, they decide to have a mastectomy and reconstructive breast surgery at the same time.
“When reconstruction is done immediately, you can more easily preserve the shape of the breast by restoring it before scars and other changes set in and distort the breast,” says Dr. Michael J. Miller, an advocate for this type of planning.
Studies have shown that reconstructive surgery is safe and does not interfere with treatment or increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence, says Miller, a nationally recognized plastic surgeon specializing in cancer reconstruction at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at Ohio State.
However, surveys show a majority of surgeons do not discuss reconstruction with their patients – a statistic that Miller finds troubling, considering that the principle benefit for patients who have reconstructive surgery is an improved quality of life.
“In women with breast cancer, there can be a tremendous deformity of their breast, and this can add to the emotional distress caused by the cancer,” says Miller, an expert in microvascular surgical techniques, which involve reattaching tiny blood vessels and nerves during reconstruction.
At a handful of cancer centers, including The James, reconstructive surgery is fully integrated into the treatment planning for breast cancer patients who need a mastectomy, says Miller, rather than being discussed as an afterthought following surgery.
Miller meets with patients soon after their initial diagnosis to discuss possible reconstruction based on individual medical needs and personal preferences. For some women, the best option is using the patient’s own tissue; while for others artificial implants may be preferred.
Concerns of appearance are very common, says Miller, who often works alongside a surgical oncologist in the operating room during the mastectomy surgery.
Once the breast tissue is removed as part of a skin-sparing surgery, Miller performs the reconstructive surgery, filling the remaining breast skin with tissue from the patient’s lower abdomen, buttocks, thighs or back.
“Restoring the breast as much as possible to the woman’s normal appearance can significantly enhance her quality of life after cancer treatment,” says Miller, who also holds the title of director of the division of plastic surgery at The Ohio State University Medical Center. “Many experience a renewed sense of wholeness and femininity after reconstruction.”
The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center-James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute is one of only 40 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States and the only freestanding cancer hospital in the Midwest. Ranked among the top 20 cancer hospitals in the nation, The James is the 175-bed adult patient-care component of the cancer program at The Ohio State University.