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Breast Reconstruction OK Before Radiation

Breast Reconstruction at Same Time as Mastectomy Safe, Say Researchers
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Oct. 22, 2003 (Salt Lake City) -- Women who want to have breast reconstruction at the same time as mastectomy for breast cancer can rest easy, say researchers.

While many women prefer to have breast reconstruction at the same time as mastectomy, some doctors recommend against it because they fear it might interfere with further treatment. Radiation therapy, which can take several months, is often given after mastectomy to get rid of any remaining cancer cells.

After breast removal surgery, "a lot of institutions want to do radiation therapy first, and some may recommend against breast reconstruction altogether," says Penny R. Anderson, MD, a radiation oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

The reason, she says, is some doctors fear that complications from surgery -- such as scarring of the new breast or infection -- may delay completion of radiation therapy.

But Anderson's new study, reported here Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, suggests such worries may be unfounded.

She says that her team at Fox Chase was not seeing undue complications when breast reconstruction was done prior to radiation therapy.

"Women Feel Better"

Breast reconstruction surgery involves creating a breast -- using either the patient's own body tissue or the placement of a breast implant -- that comes as close as possible to the appearance of a natural breast.

Having the breast replaced as soon as possible after mastectomy has a host of advantages, both psychological and cosmetic, she says. "Women feel better about themselves."

Thanks to newer surgical techniques, the results are better than ever, Anderson says. "You can look at a naked woman [who had the surgery] and never even realize her breasts aren't real."

The new study involved 85 breast cancer patients who underwent mastectomy, breast reconstruction, and postoperative radiation therapy. Some of the women had the breast reconstruction procedure known as a TRAM flap, which involves taking an area of fat, skin, and muscle from the abdomen and swinging it up and under the skin of the chest wall to create a breast shape. Other women opted for breast implants as a form of breast reconstruction.

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