New 3D imaging offers preview of plastic surgery


As a student of International Relations at San Francisco State, Guillermo is used to looking at the world from different angles. When he decided to explore cosmetic surgery for his nose, he took the same approach.

"As a guy, I'm not really looking in the mirror checking myself out, so I was very happy to look at the angles and check it out," he says.

That kind of preview is being made possible by an expanding array of cosmetic imaging programs and high-tech cameras that act like a crystal ball, allowing patients to see what they're likely to look like after a given procedure. In his office in San Mateo, plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Piro demonstrated an app that's even available on an ipad.

"They're specific to the patients because you're taking a picture of the patient and making those changes," says Piro, who has used the iPad app for several years.

In the case of rhinoplasty, he says the imaging software allows a user to sculpt the shape of the nose in the same areas a surgeon would shape it during a procedure.

"We can just narrow the tip a little bit as we come in, and narrow the dorsum slightly too," Piro says.

While the changes are quick and precise, he says the limitation to the app-based programs is that they are generally two dimensional, meaning patients can only view the image from the angle the photo was taken. He says new generation 3D imagers are now offering patients a more complete view of what they'll look like post-surgery. Once the changes are locked in, they follow the patient's face in any direction.

"I can move it around, and you can see the nice changes to the tip," he explains while turning the patients face from side to side.

But while the images are rich in detail, he admits the imaging process is still not 100-percent accurate and serves mainly as a guide.

"It doesn't account for skin tone, it doesn't account for muscle tone, and it doesn't account for operative techniques," he cautions.

Still, in Guillermo's case, he says seeing the 3D representations gave him a degree of confidence in the choice he was making.

"I did get to see the simulation, so we did have a good idea. I was surprised how accurate it was."

The 3D camera system, known as VECTRA, is also used to preview other procedures, including breast reconstruction and cosmetic breast implants.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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