Surgery gives better resuslts for breast cancer survivors


With two young children at home and facing a diagnosis of breast cancer, Regan Hunt made a tough call.

"I made a quick decision that I did not want a lumpectomy, that I wanted a double mastectomy," she said.

Hunt's main concern was preventing the cancer from recurring, but she was also encouraged by the surgical plan for her reconstruction.

Los Gatos surgeon Dr. Laurence Berkowitz told her about an emerging technique that could significantly improve her outcome.

"He kept reassuring me there were new technologies in place that he utilized that would be able to make my result, not only aesthetically pleasing, but also help regenerate to some of the feeling in my chest area that was lost in the initial surgery," Hunt said.

"And that's where fat grafting comes in and that's been a huge change for us, a game changer as we say," Berkowitz said.

After a mastectomy, surgeons first place traditional silicone implants underneath the muscle tissue in the chest. But while the implants offer shape, they don't compensate for the lost breast tissue -- which is the goal of transferring fat.

"Taking fat from another part of the woman's body and injecting it under the skin renders it softer, more attractive; blood vessels grow into it, nerves grow through it," Berkowitz said.

The fat is typically harvested from the stomach area, and then processed into a specially designed syringe that allows for precise placement.

"It's a brilliant concept because it allows us to deliver the fat in tiny droplets, as opposed to big lakes of fat," Berkowitz said.

He says the smaller, precise injections help the grafts to take hold and remain in place, allowing a surgeon to model the shape of the breast.

When the procedure is finished, he says cancer patients often return to a shape that's nearly that's nearly identical to their pre-surgery form.

"What we're able to offer them now is often a nipple sparing procedure, done through an incision that's hidden…the breast can be replaced by a combination of implant and fat grafting heretofore has been unachievable in other methods," Berkowitz said.

"The health is the most important thing but it is nice to be able to wear a swimsuit and function so that strangers or people who don't know what I've been through also would never be able to guess," Hunt said.

Berkowitz says the measured grafting also allows for a quicker recovery time, typically about 10 days.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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