Q&A: Ask the Doctor

Q: Hi, I was wondering if I would be able to schedule a phone consultation. I was recently diagnosed BRCA1 positive. I’ve been working with a breast surgeon and plastic surgeon and am interested in a double mastectomy with immediate DIEP reconstruction. After the initial consult with our local plastic surgeon, he thought this would be possible. In addition to that he wanted to do a mastopexy in preparation for nipple sparing mastectomy and DIEP. We did complete the mastopexy almost 4 weeks ago. At my last appointment, our plastic surgeon told us that he is not comfortable doing the immediate DIEP reconstruction after the mastectomy due to limited resources and being the only microsurgeon capable of doing this in my area of the Midwest. We are interested in looking into second opinion, as we would like to try and complete both surgeries in one step if possible. We are also wondering what a schedule or timeline to get in for this type of procedure would be. In the consult I would also like to discuss my journey so far, including screening results, and my past recommendations. Thank you!

A: Hi Laura, sorry you are having to go through this, but congratulations on having a great plastic surgeon. I’ve never met him, but I know he’s good because 1) he suggested /did the preliminary mastopexy, and 2) he is obviously putting your welfare first by referring you for bilateral DIEP.

We would be honored and delighted to help you through the next stage of your journey. I will be happy to discuss the details with you by phone as soon as it can be arranged.

Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD

Cool for Summer: Tips to Feel Confident in Your Summer Wardrobe After a Mastectomy

Baby, it’s hot outside! You want to feel cool and confident in your summer wardrobe, but you’ve been through a lot lately — your breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and now breast reconstruction. You might be feeling a little unsure about stepping out. Here are some tips to help you feel more confident in how you’re dressing post-reconstruction so you can enjoy the summer sun.

Don’t sacrifice your own sense of style and comfort.

You’ve gone through many physical and emotional changes since your diagnosis and having a sense of control is important to feeling more confident. So wear what makes you feel good. Do not think you need a new style or a new wardrobe to bring back your sense of self.

For example, you know that favorite summer t-shirt or sundress that you’ve worn for years because it brings back great memories? If putting either of them on makes you feel good, wear it. When you feel good, you will automatically smile and feel better about yourself.

Dress up another asset.

Feeling insecure? That’s fine. Accentuate a different part of your body for now. Got great legs? Draw attention to them. Or consider getting your hair done to invite conversation about that instead.

Wear the right bra.

It’s already a hot summer, so the last thing you need is to feel sticky and sweaty in your bra. What you wear underneath your clothes is just as important as what you wear on top of your clothes. You should wear a post-reconstruction bra that is soft and provides breathability. Fabrics like cotton make bras more comfortable on sensitive skin and any scar tissue that is still healing. Your current bras might not fit or may be uncomfortable as you heal. Use a company that specializes in post-mastectomy bras, such as Masthead Elizabeth Pink Surgical Bra. They will fit better after reconstruction which, in turn, will provide a much-needed confidence boost.

Find the right swimsuit.

If you have been given the all-clear from your doctor to go into the water, then make sure you’re prepared with a properly-fitted swimsuit. After reconstruction your breasts may not be the same size, so you may need to purchase one with a better fit. If you’re concerned about swimsuits that show scars, don’t be. Many companies offer post-surgical swimsuits that come with a higher neckline and more underarm coverage, so your scars should barely be noticeable.

Keep a positive attitude.

What you see as a breast cancer patient may differ from what others see. Your scars may not be as visible as you think and the change in the look of your new breasts may

not be as extreme as you think they are. It’s important to maintain a positive attitude throughout your entire journey. Then, it won’t matter if you wear a potato sack if you feel good about yourself. You’ll rock any look. Be comfortable and cool and the confidence will show.

Ask the Doctor: Q&A

woman sitting looking out in the distance in front of a lake

Q: I see post bariatric surgery plastic surgery referenced on your site. I didn’t realize you also offered these procedures. Which doctor cares for this? Thank you for any information you can provide.

Thanks,

M

A: Hello, M.

Currently, 90% of our activity is microvascular breast reconstruction. I did a lot of post-bariatric surgery some years ago, which is where the pictures came from. We stopped actively promoting this service (despite leaving the pictures up) because: 1) Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t usually pay for it, and 2) Most patients can’t afford to pay for it themselves. The surgeries are fairly large and serious, and as a rule, complications can be serious and patients usually need to stay in the hospital at least one night. If you can find a surgeon close to you with an express interest in performing this surgery, that would probably be your best bet. If you can’t find one and you determine we are your closest reasonable option, I would be happy to see you to discuss your options.

Thanks for your great question!

Sincerely,

Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD

Sun Safety Tips

 

Close up on woman applying sun cream on her arm with a spray at the beach on a warm, sunny day. Sunscreen protection, skin cancer concept

The warmer, sunnier weather is calling you to the great outdoors, but breast cancer survivors need to take extra special precautions to care for their skin. Why? Both chemotherapy and radiation treatments can make the skin more sensitive to the sun up to two years after treatment is over.

Before you head to the park or to the beach, It’s important for breast cancer patients to follow these tips to stay safe in the sun:

  1. Wait Just a Bit

If you just finished radiation therapy, give your skin a little time to heal before enjoying the sun. It is typically recommended that radiation patients wait a few weeks before venturing out. When exposed to the sun, radiation therapy can cause something called ‘radiation recall’, where the treated area will “remember” that it was exposed to radiation and become red, inflamed, and tender again.

  1. Use Sunscreen

According to the American Cancer Society, sunscreen for breast cancer survivors should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The SPF number is the level of protection that the sunscreen provides against UVB rays. Keep in mind that no sunscreen completely protects you, so you should combine other safety tips to increase your chance of protection.

Not sure what you should use? Every breast cancer patient is different, so talk to your oncologist and your radiation oncologist to see what they want you to use. If you have already had a negative reaction to the sun or are sensitive to certain sunscreen ingredients, they may have a different product recommendation.

  1. Cover Up

The area of your breasts that received radiation therapy should be protected from the sun at all times with clothing and sunblock, especially if the area is already red or ‘burned’ because of treatments. It’s also important to keep your surgical scars covered.

  1. Sit in the Shade

Unless your doctor specifically tells you to not go out in the sun at all, you should limit your sun exposure during the times that the ultraviolet or UV rays are the strongest. This is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. It’s best to enjoy the early morning or later evening sun.

  1. Protect Your Scalp

Chemotherapy causes hair loss, so if your hair is thinning or if you are completely bald, make sure you wear a hat or apply sunscreen to your scalp – and don’t forget your ears too!

  1. Don’t Get Overheated

Some chemotherapy medications can cause your body to become overheated in the sun, so consider wearing a wide brim hat or a hat that is made from natural fabrics so your scalp can ‘breathe.’

Don’t use tanning beds: They employ the same dangerous ultraviolet rays that the sun emits.

You can certainly enjoy the warm summer outdoors without baking in the sun. Remember, you just finished treatment and need to take it easy and keep your body healthy.

Q&A #2: May 2019

Q:
I had a bilateral mastectomy in October 2016. I finished radiation on the right side in January 2017, and underwent bilateral latissimus flap reconstruction in August 2017. I had capsular contracture (when the scar tissue or capsule that normally forms around the implant tightens and squeezes the implant) on the right side and the implant changed out in March 2018. Once again, I have capsular contracture on the same side. What do I do? They are absolutely not even close to symmetrical. I am only 46. I am kind of thinking that I should just forget reconstruction even though I don’t really want to go flat.

A:
Without knowing all of the details about your situation, I think there is a reasonable chance you have some good options left. Here are a few potential ones:
1. We have reconstructed more than 1,800 breasts with natural tissue alone (no implants) using the abdomen or buttocks. If you have any tissue in those areas, that is our most frequently used option.
2. We have, on several occasions, reconstructed breasts with latissimus flaps alone, with added free-fat grafts, which can sometimes double (or more) the size of the latissimus flap, and make implants unnecessary.
3. For the last 4 1/2 years, we have done all of our implant reconstructions exclusively in front of the muscle, using a full Alloderm (specially preserved donor skin) wrap. This has completely changed our outlook on implant breast reconstruction, and has on occasion produced surprisingly good results – even in radiated breasts. I have converted several “implant-behind-the-muscle” patients (some who already had latissimus flaps) to in-front-of-the-muscle, and they all feel that it is a significant improvement. Free-fat grafting can also be added to implant-based reconstruction to improve shape, size and overall naturalness.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with going flat if you are sure that is what you want to do, but it might be premature for you to decide to do that only because you don’t think you have any other options. I would be delighted to discuss your situation in more detail by phone, if you wish, or see you in person for a consultation.
Thanks for your question! We look forward to hearing from you.

Best,
Dr. Richard M Kline JR MD

Q&A #1: May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q:

I had bilateral mastectomy on May 11, 2018, as a result of inflammatory breast cancer. I did have a tumor, but I also had a complete response to chemo and clear margins at surgery, followed by six weeks of radiation. A 5mm metastasis to one lymph node and a total of two lymph nodes were removed. I do have scar tissue and some swelling on the affected side, but I control it with OT and exercise. I am 61 years old, and otherwise healthy. Am I a candidate for reconstruction and, if so, how long should I wait? I currently see my oncologist yearly and my surgeon every six months for a vascular ultrasound.

Thank you!

A:
You are absolutely a candidate for reconstruction with your own tissue, and we would be happy to help you any way we can. I feel it is rarely, if ever, necessary to wait more than six months after radiation for reconstruction, and you are well past that. Also, your history of radiation, fortunately, has no impact on our ability to reconstruct you successfully using your own tissue.
I would be happy to chat with you further by phone, or see you in consultation in our Charleston office. Please let us know what we can do to help.

Best,
Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD

Ask the Doctor: Q&A

 

Q:

What is the success rate for someone with:
• a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in 2011;
• encapsulation in 2016 with several fat graft attempts;
• failed implant on radiated left breast site, removed in December 2016; and
• removed right implant in February 2017?
I am now am searching DIEP options.

Thanks,

C

A:

Hi C,
I am sincerely sorry you have had so much trouble. Fortunately, none of your prior problems affect the success rate of DIEP flaps in our practice.
We recently tabulated and presented our 15-year flap experience. After 1,362 DIEP flaps, the overall survival rate was 99 percent. Neither radiation nor previous failed implant reconstructions affects the flap survival rate. Many, many, many patients with a history of radiation and multiple implant failures have gone on to have successful DIEP flap reconstructions.
I would be happy to meet with you and review your options, or chat with you by phone, just let us know how we can help.

Sincerely,

Richard M Kline Jr MD

Ask the Doctor: Q&A

Q:

I had a mastectomy in 2008 with implant reconstruction. I had the implants exchanged during additional procedures to help improve the look of the breast. I am very unhappy with how I look as it is very unnatural. I am not opposed to a procedure with another implant if done correctly. Is this something you do? Otherwise I may need to consider alternatives as I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin.

Thanks,

V

A: Hi V,
Thanks for your inquiry.
We frequently revise implant reconstructions to improve patient satisfaction. For several years, we have done essentially all of our implant-based reconstructions in front of the pectoralis muscle, which confers a number of significant benefits in terms of comfort, appearance and naturalness (compared to behind-the-muscle). I also have converted a number of patients with older behind-the-muscle reconstructions to modern in-front-of-the-muscle reconstructions, and they all feel the result is much nicer.
If implant reconstruction still proved unacceptable to you, using your own tissue is another powerful option. We have completed more than 1,800 natural tissue reconstructions – many in women who previously had unsatisfactory implant reconstruction – with great success.
I would be happy to see you in consultation, or discuss your situation in more detail by phone, if you wish. Please let us know what works for you.
Best,

Richard M. Kline, Jr., MD

Ask the Doctor: Q&A

Q:

I am interested in DIEP and live in N.C., but before I go any further, I have questions. I’m a healthy, 43-year-old female; married with children; I work, and I’m a non-smoker. I was recently diagnosed with multi-centric DCIS in my right breast. MRI enhancing revealed a left breast lesion, and a biopsy will be scheduled soon. Genetic testing came back negative. A local plastic surgery consult indicated sufficient abdominal tissue to create a breast mound. My first question — who are the breast surgeons that your office works with? Would they do a sentinel node biopsy as my surgeon has recommended? Second, could the mastectomy and DIEP occur during a single surgery? Third, do you coordinate care with my current breast surgeon? I anticipate that if the lesion on the left is also DCIS, I would opt for a lumpectomy and radiation on that side since the area is small, and do it locally with my current breast surgeon. Finally, how would I start the process of moving forward with a consult with your office for DIEP?

A:

Hi, Kay,

Thank you for your question, I am sorry you have to go through surgery. It seems you have already gotten a lot of good information about your possible treatment and reconstruction. Our practice has specialized in breast reconstruction using natural fatty tissue and procedures such as the DIEP flap since 2002. My partner and I have performed nearly 2000 breast reconstructions using natural tissue with an overall success rate of 99%. We work with several breast surgeons who we collaborate with on every patient. We are also accustomed to patients having to travel to us from out of state and have had patients come from 48 of the 50 states. We understand the difficulties associated with what you are going through and our mission is to help people in your situation. You have some excellent questions so I will answer them in list format. 

1. Who are the breast surgeons that your office works with?

We work with multiple breast surgeons who we are familiar with and collaborate with to offer our patients the options that are best for each individual situation.  Drs. Megan Baker, Jennifer Fiorinni, and Jennifer Beatty are excellent breast surgeons who we work with. Would they do a sentinel node biopsy as my surgeon has recommended I have done? Yes, they would and frequently do prior to mastectomy to determine if radiation is needed after mastectomy.

2. Could the mastectomy and DIEP Flap occur during a single surgery?

Yes, absolutely! We feel this is very important to get the best result and to minimize the number of surgeries needed.

3.  Do you coordinate care with my current breast surgeon? I anticipate that if the lesion on the left is also DCIS that I would opt for lumpectomy and radiation on that side since it is a small area and would do that locally with my current breast surgeon.

Yes, we coordinate with our patient’s home breast surgeons. For what treatment is best we also rely on the opinion of the breast surgeon here. In your situation it may be best to consider possibly having both breasts removed and then reconstructing both at the same time with the same technique. That approach allows us to achieve better symmetry between the breasts. Sometimes after a lumpectomy and radiation, the breast can develop an abnormal shape that is not desirable and difficult — if not impossible — to match with the opposite breast. The problems might not surface until after radiation and are then nearly impossible to repair. When we use the DIEP flap, it is often available for each breast and therefore makes for a great match. We can discuss this more if you like.

4. How would I start the process of moving forward with a consult with your office for DIEP?

Just let me know if you would like to see me for a consult in person or make an appointment to talk over the phone. Most of the time, we can plan and answer questions before an actual visit in person. My staff can contact you to schedule an appointment and gather additional information.

I hope that I have answered your questions, let me know if you have other questions.

Thank you,

James Craigie, MD

CNBR

Ask the Doctor: Q&A

Q: I had a lumpectomy and radiation for breast cancer. I would like to know if I can get reconstruction surgery.

Sincerely,

Ms. Jones

A: Ms. Jones,
Thank you for your question. You can absolutely get reconstruction after lumpectomy and radiation. Some of your options depend on the extent of deformity/radiation damage and asymmetry between breasts, and whether you want to proceed with a complete mastectomy.
If you are looking to just improve the appearance of your radiated breast, different things that can be done to adjust that breast to achieve a better cosmetic result and symmetry. Often modifying the non-cancer breast with a reduction and/or lift can create better symmetry.

With true breast reconstruction, you need a complete mastectomy for an implant or your own tissue to replace the breast mound. Implants are often not recommended for and do not work the best in a radiated breast, but it is not impossible. Having had a lumpectomy with radiation has no effect on your ability to have the breast reconstructed with your own tissue by using your abdomen, buttocks or thighs as the most likely donor sites.

We work with multiple excellent breast surgeons in our area who could do the mastectomy immediately followed by reconstruction in the same surgery. Depending on your overall risk and preference, you could also have the non-cancer breast removed and reconstructed, but we leave that decision up to you and your oncology team.

Our reconstruction procedures are most commonly a staged process that involves at least two surgeries to achieve something close to a satisfying result. We would be happy to meet you in the office for a consult with one of our surgeons, Dr. James Craigie or Dr. Richard Kline, to discuss your best options and give you more information on the different procedures. If you live out of town, we can often offer a phone consult first to help you better understand the process before you make a long trip here. We also can set up a meeting for you with a local breast surgeon on the same day as your consult with us if you are interested. Please let us know how we can best help you, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,

Audrey Rowen, PA-C