New Duke procedure brings new hope for breast cancer survivors

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A new procedure is giving breast cancer patients who have undergone mastectomies new hope for breast reconstruction.

According to Duke, only 40 percent of women who had mastectomies are good candidates for getting implants.

Megan Hoffman Houk of Raleigh was in that position.

She was diagnosed in June 2006 with stage 3A breast cancer and underwent bilateral mastectomy seven days after the diagnosis.

She was 34 years old.

Then after multiple treatments of chemotherapy and radiation her skin changed, making it nearly impossible to allow for implants.

She opted for the next best thing and wore a prosthetic, but it was heavy, bulky, and moved around.

“It was inconvenient, it was embarrassing, it was unsettling. It was a constant reminder of the breast cancer because as a breast mastectomy patient, part of it is mental,” Houk said.

Houk later discovered the Biform breast prosthetic, which she received through the Anaplastology Clinic, which she said was a significant improvement because it was lighter and also custom fit just for her.

She loved it so much, she now works for the company.

Now fast forward to 2013, through another Biform customer, Houk learned of a new fat grafting reconstruction procedure performed by Dr. Michael Zenn with Duke University Hospital that would change her life.

“We can actually revitalize that skin that’s been radiated and make it more normal again so it becomes elastic so it feels more like normal skin so we can do a standard reconstructive technique” said Zenn.

Zenn said he does this by injecting fat cells.

“Someone can come in with local anesthesia, can come in and have some fat harvested, liposuction, inject it, wait three months, do it again. We do it about three times and at that point, the area almost looks like it hasn’t had any radiation at all,” he said.

Radiated skin will often not expand to allow for implants, which is why so many women who undergo mastectomies, are not candidates for reconstruction.

But this new procedure, that only about a dozen women have successfully been a part of at Duke, is something that is about to change a lot of women’s lives.

For Houk, it meant another chance at being normal.

“It means the world. It means that I can be who I am and not constantly looking over my shoulder,” she said.

Copyright 2015 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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