Shaping Up; How Scots Doctors Are Pioneering a New Approach to Breast Reconstruction
Byline: CATRIONA WROTTESLEY
IT was six weeks to the day after Frances Lynn first discovered a breast lump in August last year that she walked out of hospital following a mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
Although dealing with her illness was traumatic, Frances, 43, says her treatment at Glasgow's Canniesburn Hospital was first-rate.
And now researchers at the hospital are aiming to improve that treatment even further with a new 3- D imaging system which will enable surgeons to improve reconstructive surgery.
The techniques they are researching will help produce a three-dimensional image of the woman's breast so that they can create an implant practically identical in dimension and proportion to the woman's natural breast.
Like Frances, more and more women are opting for immediate reconstruction after a mastectomy.
A year after her operation, Frances is glad she never had to adapt to life with a prosthetic. She said: "My new breast feels like my own. I'm sure having reconstruction straight away speeded up my psychological recovery. I can get on with my life."
Every year, around 200 of Canniesburn's breast cancer patients have immediate reconstruction. The hospital's rate of combined operations is among the highest in Europe.
Until now, surgeons have relied on their own judgement to make the best possible new breast, but the new technology will make the outcome more certain.
The hospital has set up Canniesburn Research Trust (CRT), a registered Scottish charity, to develop the 3- D imaging project.
Together with Glasgow Dental School, CRT is also studying 3-D imaging techniques to establish new standards of treatment and clinical evaluation of cleft lip and palate.
Using these techniques, it is now possible to create a model of the breast to objectively decide the size and type of flap (replacement body tissue) needed and the scale and complexity of the operation.
Mrs Eva Weiler-Mithoff, consultant plastic surgeon at Canniesburn Hospital, explained: "Until now, breast reconstruction has been done by guesswork because you don't know the weight of the breast.
"With the help of 3-D imaging cameras, we're going to be able to get a more predictable result."
The results from the project will help guide the best reconstruction plan and increase the efficiency of the operation. This is an important safety issue as mastectomy and reconstruction operations can take up to 14 hours to perform
The UK has one of the world's highest rates of breast cancer, with one in 10 women affected and more than 10,000 mastectomies are carried out each year.
Previously, these were done by general surgeons without access to reconstructive techniques.
But now there's an ever-increasing demand by women not only for breast reconstruction, but also for improvements in the quality of reconstruction they receive. Clinical director for plastic surgery and dermatology, Mr Arup Ray, said: "We intend to use this system to plan the surgery as well as evaluate the results, to come as near perfection in symmetry as we can. …