A new way to start reconstruction after breast cancer

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - After a breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy, many women immediately decide whether or not they want to reconstruct their breast. If they do, the first step can happen during their surgery to remove the disease, when a tissue expander is inserted to make room for the new implant.

The traditional way to expand the tissue requires tubes coming out of the expander so saline can be injected to stretch the skin. That means patients have to frequently return to the doctor to keep the process moving and it can be time-consuming, sometimes painful.

However, a new expander called AeroForm allows patients to eliminate time spent at the doctor by expanding the tissue with a wireless controller from home.

Janet Alvarez-Jedkins used AeroForm as part of her reconstruction. She has been through breast cancer treatment and reconstruction all in the last year.

“When you're diagnosed, it feels like part of you leaves you, temporarily… but a year later I can look in the mirror and I can say I like me, I love this, this is great!” Alvarez-Jedkins said.

Her reconstruction was done at Plastic Surgery of Houston with Dr. Jay Shenaq, who uses AeroForm.

“So it's basically a wireless device with a controller where the patient can program it and introduce controlled doses at home in order to expand the tissue expander with air,” Shenaq said.

Following a mastectomy, AeroForm is surgically placed under the chest muscle to stretch the tissue of the chest wall to make room for an implant. Air inside the device expands with the push of a button on the wireless controller.

“The patient can dose themselves 10CC at a time, three times a day, at home, and they can achieve the full expansion with almost maximum 20 to 30 days,” Shenaq said.

Alvarez-Jedkins was able to control the pace of expansion by choosing how often and when to dose. From home, she watched her new breasts take shape.

“You're like ‘oh this is not doing anything’ but it is! It's secretly filling that cavity and in a matter of two and a half to three weeks I’m like whoa!” she said.

She said it wasn't painful but it was empowering.

“I felt it was an added relief. That's one thing I can put my hands on and I can, I can control this and I just love it,” Alvarez-Jedkins said.

You cannot overdo the expansion or give yourself "too much.” The device only allows you to do a certain amount in a day, and since you can go at your own pace, Shenaq said it's more comfortable for patients.

Shenaq said the only people who would not be good candidates for this treatment are patients with a pacemaker.

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