Stem Cells Reshape Breasts After Cancer
Four-Fifths of Women Satisfied With Cosmetic Results Following Breast Cancer Surgery
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 17, 2007 (San Antonio) -- In a medical first, researchers have used
stem cells to help reshape the breasts of women who have undergone a lumpectomy
to remove a breast tumor.
In a small study, nearly four-fifths of women who got injections of stem
cells derived from their own fat tissue were satisfied with the cosmetic
During a lumpectomy, surgeons take out only the tumor and surrounding
tissue, sparing the remainder of the breast. Radiation is typically given
afterward to kill any missed cancer cells.
While the goal is to preserve as much of the breast as possible, the
procedures can leave a woman with a scarred, misshapen, and cratered
Currently, there's not much doctors can offer these women, says Eric
Daniels, MD, a surgeon at Cytori Therapeutics. Cytori developed the device used
in the stem cell treatment but was not involved in the new study.
"The defect is too small to make her a candidate for the breast implants
[offered to women who have a breast removed during a mastectomy]," he
Doctors can try rearranging the breast tissue that is left or modifying the
other breast to match the flawed one, says Sameer Patel, MD, a reconstructive
surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia that was not involved with
But this involves surgery and can leave additional scars. "It's far from
ideal," he tells WebMD.
Stem Cells Overcome Problems With Fat Implants
Patel says that injections of fat tissue have been tried, but the fat is
often reabsorbed or dies.
That happens, he says, primarily because of a poor blood supply between the
implanted fat cells and the breast cells.
That's where stem cells -- those miraculous master cells that have the
potential to form many other types of cells -- come in.
While the research is still early, it is thought that the stem cells develop
into the cells needed to form new blood vessels.
"The stem cells likely stimulate the breast tissue to make new blood
vessels," Daniels says. The new blood vessels supply oxygen and nourishment
to the implanted cells, keeping the graft alive.
It's possible, but unlikely, that the procedure actually builds new fat
tissue, he says.