Stem-cell breast repair

Irene McKenzie (picture from Daily Mail)

Irene McKenzie (source: Daily Mail)

I recently wrote about a reconstruction technique which is being trialled by British surgeons, who are harvesting stem-cell-enriched fat from women’s bodies to plug the dip often left by breast cancer operations. The procedure appears to restore the softness and suppleness of breast tissues, undoing the damage frequently caused by lumpectomy and radiotherapy.

Today I came across a story in the Daily Mail newspaper about Irene McKenzie, who became the first person in the UK to undergo this treatment following a lumpectomy five years ago.  The newspaper article tells of her experience and also describes the procedure in detail which her consultant plastic surgeon, Dr Eva Weiler-Mithoff carried out at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.  

Dr Weiler-Mithoff  says in the article that ” patients come to us with mild, but to them, upsetting, contour defects. If you looked at the breast in silhouette, you’d notice a dip. Immediately after a lumpectomy, the area may not look that different. But if it is treated with radiotherapy, it shrinks and pulls in the overlying skin forming a crater. Until three years ago when some surgeons started filling these craters with fat liposuctioned from one part of the body, there was not much we could do. If it was really noticeable, we could take tissue, from the back, to put in the breast dip – but this is a big operation. Now we can inject stem cell-enriched fat into the dip. The big advantage of this over plain liposuctioned fat is that it boosts its chances of survival. Ordinary fat can struggle to get a decent blood supply and it can either die or be absorbed back into the body – or it can calcify and feel like another lump. We don’t know why, but if you put stem cells into the breast, they become fat and blood vessels. This stem-cell enriched fat also seems to restore the softness of the breast tissues. It almost uncrumples the skin, undoing some of the radiotherapy damage, and women are reporting that their pain has eased, too – possibly because it makes the skin more supple. We won’t have the final results of our trial until summer 2010, but I feel this technique will have a significant impact on breast reconstruction. Patients don’t need a big operation and there are no scars”.

Plastic surgeons at Leeds General Infirmary and Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital are about to recruit patients for the UK trial. It is important to note that only patients with a cancer under 3cm, which hasn’t travelled to the lymph nodes, can be enrolled. Suitable patients interested in participating should contact their breast surgeon for referral.

You can read the Daily Mail article here.