Northwell Docs—And Their Patients—Extol the Virtues of New Breast Reconstruction Techniques
By Jeff Wilson–
Scores of hopeful women filled the ballroom at Mount Kisco’s MTK Hotel on October 17 for a “free educational and empowerment event for those considering breast reconstruction after a breast cancer diagnosis,” according to the press release. Sponsored by Northwell Health and held just a day before Breast Reconstruction Awareness or BRA Day (recognized nationally since 2011 on the third Wednesday of October), the event included a buffet dinner and featured a noted panel of doctors who discussed – with the help of a slide show – how they give a mastectomy patient a new breast(s), “allowing her to feel normal and whole for the rest of her life,” according to Dr. Oren Lerman, director of the Breast Reconstructive Fellowship at Northwell Health. (Several patients who’d undergone novel procedures were on hand to show the results.)
In addition to Dr. Lerman, the panel included Andrew AshikarI, a nationally acclaimed surgical oncologist, Dr. Wolciech Dec, board-certified plastic surgeon, Ranjana Chaterji, DO, a surgical oncologist and board-certified breast surgeon for treatment of genetic and malignant breast disease, and Dr. Casian Monaco, board-certified plastic surgeon. All of the doctors are affiliated with Northwell Health and perform their surgeries at either Phelps or Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco.
In a separate interview, Dr. Lerman offered reasons why 70% of women forego reconstructive surgery after mastectomy (according to research in the journal JCO Global Oncology). One reason is that the opportunity isn’t even presented to them – they simply aren’t told about it. Or they may be aware but lack access to specialized surgeons. A third reason could simply be fear. After a mastectomy, they want no part of additional invasive procedures. Dr. Lerman wants to enlighten those who are apprehensive, “closing the loop about breast cancer treatment by educating women about breast reconstruction options,” he stated. “Restoring a woman back to her normal appearance.”
In a subsequent conversation, Dr. Ashikari extolled the advances in breast reconstruction. “The methods of breast removal and breast reconstruction are all new. We’re constantly refining ways of (performing) surgery and reconstruction and still getting better survival rates even though we’re doing less aggressive treatment,” he explained. “I mean, it’s a win-win.”
Three of those “winners” – Linda Dougherty of Ossining, Valerie Rhames of Yonkers and Jessica Meyrowitz of Chappaqua – were there to praise the innovative surgery they’d undergone at Phelps. The novel surgery is known as deep inferior epigastric perforator or DIEP flap, in which fatty tissue from the abdomen is transplanted in the chest and reshaped as a breast. (The women explained that mastectomy/reconstruction procedures are like tag-team matches, with the cancer surgeon or oncologist performing the mastectomy before the reconstructive surgeon steps in to do his work.) Despite difficult recoveries, all the patients were thrilled with the outcome.
Meyrowitz had rave reviews for her surgeons. “There is not a better team than (Drs.) Ashikari and Lerman out there,” she gushed.
The panel discussion which followed covered about every aspect of the subject matter: various predispositions to breast cancer (age at menopause, number of biopsies, etc.), screening recommendations, implant reconstruction, a seven-column roster of the Breast Care Team, and pros and cons of tissue reconstruction (e.g. lower complication rate vs. requirement of two operative sites). There’s even a process called ReSensation surgery, which involves nerve grafting in cases where the patient has no feeling – a common occurrence.
The event concluded with patients showing their post-mastectomy breast reconstructions in private to other women.
Meyrowitz had yet more praise for the program and staff. “Everybody’s been phenomenal. ‘We’re gonna help you,’ she quoted them as saying. “And they did.”
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