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Breast reconstruction's modern look

August 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Actress Christina Applegate had cancer in one breast, but because of the high likelihood it could return in the other breast she had it removed. The next phase is reconstruction. In 2007 there were 5,700 of these surgeries performed. New procedures are helping some women retain much of what they looked like before surgery, for others reconstruction involves a lot more. At age of 30, Encino school teacher Kimberly Read was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer on her left side. She tested positive for one of two known breast cancer genes.

"I think that since I had the BRCA2 gene. I figured I needed to be as aggressive as I could be," said Read.

Being aggressive meant removing not only the breast with the tumor, but also her healthy one. It's called a prophylactic mastectomy.

At that point, she got silicone implants and started her reconstruction process.

"I think having a breast cancer diagnosis, in general, you're always thinking about it coming back," said Read.

Most mastectomies require nipple and aerola removal for fear the cancer can return in the ductal tissue. In time doctors surgically recreate what was removed.

But some women like Heather Fineman are candidates for a new type of tissue preserving procedure.

"Twenty years ago our goal was to make a breast mound, it was just something to fill a bra. Ten years ago we started to move into skin mastectomy so the breast shape became a little more natural. Nowadays we are going into total skin, nipple and aerola preservation with completely hidden scars," said Dr. Mia Talmor, from The Iris Cantor Women's Health Center.

"I had one step, mastectomy and reconstruction all in one surgery. What is really special about this surgery is they leave nipple intact," said patient Heather Fineman.

Because Kimberly's breast cancer was aggressive, she had everything removed. While she awaits more reconstruction, visible scars remain. Despite this, Kimberly knows she made the right decision.

"It just gives you peace of mind at night, so you can sleep a little bit better," Read.

After a breast is removed, surgeons usually place an expander under the skin which is basically a balloon that is gradually filled with water over a number of weeks. After that most patients are fitted with implants.


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