Air expanders let breast cancer patients recover at their pace

April 19, 2012 7:56:03 PM PDT
New technology from a Bay Area company could help millions of women recover more quickly after breast cancer surgery. And one of its biggest advantages is that it puts you in control.

It's been just 72 hours since Beverly Jacoby underwent a double mastectomy for breast cancer, but she's already in the process of restoring her body.

"This I can do in the privacy of my own home at my own pace," said Jacoby.

During Jacoby's surgery, plastic surgeon Kamakshi Zeidler M.D., implanted a device known as an expander under each breast area. They're used to stretch out the scar tissue over time and create space for reconstructive implants. But the expanders in her chest will accomplish that in a unique way.

A radio frequency remote will allow Beverly to inflate the devices herself, controlling the pace at which they expand in her chest.

"It's very easy to use. It's literally the press of two buttons. Press of one button to turn it on. The remote finds and connects to the expander," said Zeidler.

Scott Dodson is CEO of the Palo Alto company AirXpanders, which makes the device. He says each implant contains a tiny reservoir of compressed C02 gas, which delivers the inflation. He says the strategy is an alternative to traditional expanders, which require doctors to place a needle into the breast area every few weeks and inject saline into the implant to increase its size.

"Now, instead of a needle to go into the device, the patient is going to use this small handheld dose controller," said Dodson.

Zeidler says patients typically apply three small doses a day which are less likely to cause pain.

"They're not subjected to the needle and discomfort and they can go at their own pace," said Zeidler.

But the company says, early data from their clinical trials suggest that women typically reach the optimal expansion for breast reconstruction in less time using the system.

"Women achieved full expansion in about 15 days, as opposed to several months," said Dodson.

When enough space is created, doctors will remove the air expanders and place the permanent implants she's been waiting for.

"It means a lot to me to be whole again, like I'm sure every woman out there," said Jacoby.

The company hopes to have results from their latest trial ready to submit for approval, by the end of the year.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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