Breast Cancer Recurrence: What and Why?

When breast cancer comes backs, it is called recurrence. While those who have a recurrence are not in the majority, they are certainly not a rarity or an impossibility. Recurrences typically happen within the first five years after treatment but can occur at any time and have a few ways of returning. To help ease some of the worries of these first few cancer-free years, we want to give some clarity and explanation into what breast cancer recurrence is and what to look for.

Causes

Breast cancer recurrence occurs when cells from your original breast cancer manage to escape being treated and begin growing again. This process can sometimes take years. The cancer cells will lay dormant until something kick starts them into growing again.

Risks

Many of the recurrence risk factors are determined by the original tumor and cancer, though the patient determines some. These risk factors include:

  • A large tumor–A larger tumor increases the risk of cells being left behind.
  • Close or positive tumor margins–During surgery, when the surgeon removes the cancer, they will remove a small amount of healthy tissue around it. The tissue is then examined with a microscope. If it is clear of cancer, the margin is considered negative. However, if there are any cells left (considered a positive margin), risk or recurrence increases.
  • Lymph node infection–The risk of recurrence increases if cancer was found in lymph nodes at your original diagnosis.
  • No radiation treatment post-surgery–While most who undergo a lumpectomy choose to receive radiation therapy in the area of cancer afterward to reduce the risk of recurrence, some do not.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer–This type of breast cancer increases the risk of a local recurrence.
  • Specific cancer cell characteristics–Having triple-negative breast cancer or cancer resistant to hormone therapy can increase your risk.
  • No endocrine therapy–For certain types of breast cancer, not receiving endocrine therapy can raise the risk of recurrence in cancer patients.
  • Younger age–Those of a younger age during their initial breast cancer diagnosis, specifically under 35, have a higher risk of their cancer returning, despite generally older generally being a risk factor of cancer in general.
  • Obesity–Increased body mass index increases the risk of breast cancer coming back.

Prevention

There are methods and steps you can take to reduce your risk of recurrence of breast cancer, many in your initial treatment.

  • Chemotherapy–Those with an increased chance of recurrent breast cancer have been shown to have a decreased risk when treated with chemo.
  • Hormone therapy–If you have receptor-positive breast cancer, taking hormone therapy in your initial treatment can reduce your risk. This treatment method can sometimes continue for five or more years.
  • Targeted therapy–If your cancer produced additional HER2 proteins, targeted drug and treatment might reduce your risk.
  • Radiation therapy–A previous breast cancer patient with a large tumor, a breast-sparing operation, or inflammatory cancer would have reduced risk if treated with radiation treatment.
  • Bone-Building–Bone building medications can reduce the risk of recurrence taking place in bones, otherwise known as bone metastasis, for those with a high risk.
  • Healthy Diet–To decrease your risk of breast cancer recurrence, be sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet, as well as limiting alcohol to one drink a day.
  • Exercising–Exercising regularly may help reduce your risk.

Kinds of Recurrence

Recurrent breast cancer can take one of three forms, defined by where it appears in reference to the primary cancer and treatment. The three types are local, regional, and distant recurrence.

Local

A local recurrence occurs when cancer cells grow in the same area as your previous cancer. If a lumpectomy was used for treatment (rather than a full mastectomy), cancer might start to regrow in the breast tissue that remains. If a complete mastectomy were performed, the tissue along the skin or chest wall would hold the recurring breast cancer.

Some signs that local recurrence is occurring are:

  • One or more painless lumps, nodules, or irregular areas of firmness under the skin
  • Newly thickened areas along mastectomy scars
  • Changes to the skin (inflammation, redness, changes in texture)
  • Nipple discharge

Many of the signs of a local recurrence are similar to those of initial breast cancer. After treatment, it does not hurt and may help to continue self-breast exams to keep an eye out for any changes, just in case.

Regional

Regional recurrence also happens rather close to the original site of infection. However, the difference between regional and local recurrence is a matter of lymph nodes. In regional recurrence, the local lymph nodes, such as those under the arm, will be infected with cancer.

Signs of regional recurrence cancer may include a lump or swelling in lymph nodes, so continue your self-checks in these areas:

  • Under the arm
  • Along the neck
  • Near and in the groove above the collarbone

This kind of recurrent breast cancer can almost be considered a subset of local recurrence and can many times be found by being familiar with your own body. Regular self-breast checks are just as necessary after breast cancer treatments as they are before.

Distant

Distant recurrence is when cancer recurred somewhere in the body away from the original site. This can include other organs such as the lungs or even bones. In this case, the patient is generally treated much in the same way as those diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. However, treatment can vary from standard stage IV treatment based on the responses to previous treatments.

Treatment

Treatment, many times, is determined by the kind of breast cancer recurrence found. Local will be treated differently from regional will be treated differently from different.

Local Treatment

Local breast cancer recurrence is, if possible, treated with surgical treatment. If a lumpectomy and radiation were used previously, then a mastectomy would be the first choice treatment. If a mastectomy was performed prior, the tumor would be removed, and the patient will be treated with radiation therapy if not already received.

Either way, both of these plans are likely to be accompanied by chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, or some combination to ensure a full recovery.

Regional Treatment

Sometimes breast cancer will come back in the lymph nodes. This can be treated by removing the lymph nodes themselves, followed by radiation in the surrounding area, if not already received. Systemic (targeted, hormone, or chemotherapy) treatment after surgery may be discussed on a case-by-case basis to ensure that any remaining cancer cells are eliminated.

Distant Treatment

The primary treatment for distant recurrent breast cancer will be a form of system treatment (hormone, targeted, or chemotherapy) based on how your cancer has responded before. You and your doctor can create a treatment plan that serves you well, knowing what has worked with these breast cancer cells previously and what has not.

Dr. Gorman

Dr. Valerie Gorman and the Texas Breast Center are aware of the risks of recurrent breast cancer and the chances that your breast cancer may come back. This is why she and her team stay with you through your personalized treatment and long after to make sure you know that you always have a support system, whether you need it or not.

Dr. Gorman specializes in surgical oncology and surgical diseases of the breast. She serves as the Medical Director of Surgical Services at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center as well as the Chief of Surgery.


Exploring New Findings in Breast Cancer Research

The week of December 10, Dr. Valerie Gorman attended the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium to give a poster presentation for her research in 5-day SBRT radiation. This symposium is an opportunity for those involved in breast cancer research to share what they have learned.

The SABCS’ stated objective states that the conference “is designed to provide state-of-the-art information on the experimental biology, etiology, prevention, diagnosis, and therapy of breast cancer and premalignant breast disease, to an international audience of academic and private physicians and researchers.” Research is brought from all of these categories to be shared and help other practitioners improve their own research or treatments.

Dr. Gorman praises this conference for the multidisciplinary spread of study. As her breast cancer team is interdisciplinary, she can gather information that will interest every member of her team. She noted that there were presentations this year on “molecular studies on circulating tumor cells, more targeted therapies, and many other topics. Together with our oncology colleagues and team members, we’re able to use these to treat our patients in a collaborative, multidisciplinary fashion.”

For example, while Dr. Gorman does not specialize or perform chemotherapy treatment, she took note of several tailored researched studies into chemotherapy. There is new research being done on HER2 positive cancer, or breast cancer that tests positive for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. HER2 protein excess is found in approximately 20% of breast cancers, caused by a gene mutation in the cancer cells. There is also chemotherapy targeting metastatic breast cancer, which is cancer that has spread beyond the point of origin–in this case, the breast and lymph nodes nearby. Patients with these cancers tend to have a lot of, and many kinds of chemo throughout their treatment. These new studies are helping us to learn how to “study the tumor and retailor the chemotherapy to the individual patient and their needs.”

The presentation that Dr. Gorman and her team were most interested in, however, came from the University of Florence in Italy. They presented on the ten-year results of breast cancer patients who had been treated with Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation (APBI), a treatment Dr. Gorman has been using and perfecting for many years.

The use of radiation therapy on breast cancer is a common occurrence. This treatment directs high energy rays directly at the cancerous area to kill any cancerous cells left over after surgery. Traditionally, radiation therapy is implemented over 30 days. This regimen includes visits every weekday for six weeks and can potentially lead to burns on the surrounding tissue as well as changes in the patient’s appearance. However, APBI shortens the number of days needed for the treatment. Some protocols of APBI give radiotherapy twice a day for five days, while others–including Dr. Gorman’s practice–only give it once a day for five days. While the treatment itself takes little time in office, doctors know transport and waiting room time can take up valuable time from the patient’s personal and work life. By minimizing how many office visits are required, these doctors are giving their patients more of their life back.
The presentation that the University of Florence gave reveals new results from patients ten years after their surgeries and radiotherapy treatments. The results found that survival rates at the ten-year mark for those who received APBI–as with the five-year mark–matched the survival rate of those who received longer treatments. However, APBI has better cosmetic results and less burn damage.

Dr. Gorman is pleased to know that this treatment helps her patients, not only by treating their breast cancer but also by lessening the impact that breast cancer has on their personal life. With few in-office treatments, there is less time away from the office or the family. The APBI also produces more favorable cosmetic results, which can help with a healthier mindset as you approach healing.
Dr. Gorman and her team offer APBI when necessary to provide the breast results and the least interference in her patients’ lives. They also provides necessary breast cancer surgery to best help a given case. As the Chief of Surgery and Medical Director of Surgical Service of Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in Waxahachie, Dr. Valerie Gorman, MD, FACS is ready to answer your questions and design a personalized cancer treatment plan for you.


Breast Reconstruction Surgery: A Team Approach

Dr. Valerie Gorman, MD, FACS, is a breast cancer surgeon, board-certified by the American Board of Surgery. She specializes in surgical diseases of the breast and surgical oncology, serving as the Chief of Surgery and Medical Director of Surgical Services at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Waxahachie, Texas.

As she helps her patients through the process of learning their best options for cancer treatment and the most effective type of surgery to help, her staff works with her. But she also knows that she is not the last step in the healing process. It is common for breast surgery for cancer to require reconstruction. So Dr. Gorman has an established partnership with Dr. Potter that has now lasted more than 15 years.

Dr. Jason Potter, MD, DDS, is a plastic surgeon who serves the greater Dallas area and has affiliations with multiple hospitals and hospital systems. He is double board-certified, with his advanced surgical training focusing on reconstructive plastic surgery. He serves the greater Dallas area.

Dr. Gorman and Dr. Potter’s partnership is based on mutual respect for both each other and the patient. The two sat down in a joint interview to explain how their collaboration worked and how it benefitted the patient.

To start, Dr. Gorman was asked why she chose to work with Dr. Potter. She answered,

“We both have the same standard for our patients. He doesn’t do the easy way; he does the right thing for the patient. He can offer every option to our patients, so he’s not just limited to one kind of breast reconstruction. I think other plastic surgeons recommend what they do. And he does it all, so it makes it easy to recommend the best thing for each patient.”

Dr. Potter explained his reconstruction options:

“The two main types of reconstruction are either implant-based reconstruction or tissue-based reconstruction. Patients are not always a candidate for both. Sometimes there are limitations put on us by the patient’s body habitus, such as how much tissue they have to donate for breast reconstruction or prior surgeries that prevent utilizing tissue from certain areas. So most of the time, implants will always be available, but if patients have had multiple infections or have a history of radiation, there are higher complication rates for implant surgery.

However, some people don’t want an implant. They’ve never had an implant, and they never will have an implant. They just don’t want one. Implants require maintenance. You have a new device in the breast that has to be maintained, has to be monitored, and has to be replaced approximately every ten years. Whereas, when you have an all-tissue breast reconstruction, the patient doesn’t necessarily need other surgeries once they’ve completed the process because maintenance isn’t required. It’s really sitting down with the patient, seeing what co-morbidities or preferences they might have or bring to the table, and then selecting the best option.”

Several factors have to be taken into account when figuring the best approach to breast reconstruction. Dr. Gorman usually starts the process when discussing the initial breast cancer treatment.

“Usually, the patient is in my office first, so I try to get a good understanding of them, and I try to learn a little about what the patient would like to do. I usually have an idea of when he would like to offer somebody one or the other, considering the patient’s preference, their medical situation, their questions, and what they already know. I then go from there. Some factors I look for are if they’re a smoker, or if I see they’ve had several abdominal surgeries. If they’ve had radiation before, I know we’re going to have to do a flap to try to protect that implant, those kinds of things. I leave it open for Dr. Potter to use his expertise and talk to them about the pros and cons of each option available.

Some people don’t want a massive surgery. The flap is a longer, second operation, so many people want to avoid that. But in the long run, 20 years from now, that 8 hours in the operating room, they’re not going to remember that part. So, we try to talk them through what they want and what we think they’re tending to prefer and talk about the pros and cons. If they’re a smoker, there may be certain options that have reduced risk. Then we send them to Dr. Potter, and he finishes the conversation, and they make the final decision. And our offices coordinate scheduling whatever procedure we’ve decided together with the patient.”

Dr. Potter added:

“It’s a nice team approach. From the day they go into Dr. Gorman’s office, they’re starting to get questions answered; they begin to have reconstruction questions answered. As soon as they find out they’re going to need a mastectomy, they want to know what that next step will be. Dr. Gorman is very good at starting that discussion with them. After surgery, both offices work with the patients when they have issues in the postoperative period, so it’s a nice comprehensive approach to patient care. I think the patients really like it.”

Once the patients have met their doctors, the process can begin.

“Breast reconstruction is a process, so it’s not usually one operation and done. It starts the day of the mastectomy with either placement of a tissue expander (which is a temporary implant) or initial reconstruction using the patient’s own tissue in certain situations. But operations are usually staged about three months apart. So, if surgery was all the patient needed, they may complete reconstruction in six months or so. If they need chemotherapy or if they need radiation, they may not complete the reconstruction process for nine to twelve months. It’s kind of hard to say exactly how quickly they can have their surgery, but they’re staged depending on the procedure and patient’s needs and other treatments.”

Dr. Gorman said about the stages:

“A lot of people come in and say, ‘I want it all done in one operation,’ which we can sometimes do. But we talk to the patient about how sometimes that’s not the best solution for them because they’re going to end up having another operation down the road anyway. So, whether it’s one stage or two-stage, we tend to go with two-stage for improved cosmetic outcomes. Once again, those are just the different options we offer.

Another variation of the reconstruction options mentioned above is whether the DIEP flaps procedure is being performed. Dr. Potter is well known for his ability to perform this operation.

“Not everyone does the flaps. That’s a big operation, and Dr. Potter does a significantly high volume of these. He’s the DIEP flaps guy. If you mention DIEP flaps to anybody, his name comes up. We offer that to our patients, which is awesome.”

Dr. Potter gave a little more detail into the DIEP procedure, saying:

“It’s a complex reconstructive procedure. Not every surgeon offers these techniques. Because of its complexity, patients are better served by an experienced team like ours. For the last 13 years, we’ve been providing that operation in Dallas. We have a very efficient team, which is important for patients so that they’re not under anesthesia too long. We’re also refining the technique and leading some of the advances. We are are now providing Resensate™ to candidate patients. Resensate is a technique to provide reinnervation to the breast.”

Reinnervation is the restoration of nerves to a place where there has been nerve damage, like a surgical site. This has been a concern of plastic surgeons for as long as this has been a profession. To explain the importance of Resensate and its work in reinnervation, as well as patient expectations, Dr. Gorman explained,

“The biggest thing when you’re educating patients about breast reconstruction after they get a mastectomy is that they’ll say, ‘oh well, my friend had implants, so this is kind of like that, at least I get a breast augmentation and implants like my friend did.’ And then you have to remind them, ‘your friend kept her breast, and yes, she has the same implants in there, but it’s very different.’ And the sensation is the most significant difference there probably. The way they feel and look are different, too, but the sensation is very different. And we have heard a wide variety of comments from patients who have had this procedure, from ‘they feel like they are floating in front of me,’ to ‘I have some intermittent feeling, it comes back over months,’ to somewhere in between. I think that’s the most significant difference, once they get over the initial surgery and diagnosis and treatment. Settling back into everyday life, it is a constant reminder. It is hard to forget what they’ve been through because it is so different. So gaining feeling back will be huge because it is one of the big reminders for them.”

Now that there is a general understanding of the types of breast reconstruction and the process of moving between the breast cancer surgeon to the plastic surgeon, Dr. Potter discussed some of the common questions he gets asked at appointments.

“There are lots of questions about tissue-based operations versus implant-based operations. There are lots of questions about the types of implants given, and the recent Allergen textured surface recall. And really, the most common question is ‘which operation is best for me? We try to take patients through that question because that discussion is never the same for any two patients. Recovery is always a concern. Most questions here deal with downtime, recovery, time off work, and number of surgeries.

Recovery varies with the operation and the patient. With the first operation–the mastectomy and the tissue expander–it can be anywhere from 2-4 weeks of downtime. Implant surgeries are usually less downtime for the first stage, and tissue surgeries can be up to 6-8 weeks, depending on what they choose.”

The recent concerns about textured implants have resulted in many questions regarding implant safety. He continued,

“Overall, implants are very safe. A recently identified process called Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma has brought renewed scrutiny to breast implants. Allergen was asked to voluntarily recall their textured surface implant line because 80% of the cases found worldwide were associated with that implant surface. But it’s an extremely rare process.

Despite its rare occurrence, many patients going through breast cancer treatment do not want to worry about other potential problems linked to the reconstruction. This is leading more patients to inquire about tissue-based options.”

In summary, whether receiving a tissue or implant breast reconstructive surgery, Drs. Potter and Gorman know to listen to you, to listen to each other, and work with the best materials to ensure the best outcome for you.

When asked for their final thoughts, Dr. Gorman had this to say,

“The team we’ve formed between our offices and the options we offer together are what I want to emphasize. Between the two of us, we can more thoroughly follow-up. If a patient goes to see him, he will ask me any questions that need asking. If they need to have drains removed but don’t want to drive all the way to him, they can stop in our office to get them taken out. We do a lot of that for the patient, which I think is pretty great for them. We navigate them through the post-breast reconstruction hassle. We can say ‘yes, we’ve talked to them, you’re good to go here or do this’ so they don’t have to go back and forth between us and say ‘well Dr. Gorman said this’ then they say ‘well Dr. Potter said to let you know that.’ This way, the patient doesn’t have to do all that on their own.”

Dr. Potter followed up in agreement.

“It is a very personal, very comprehensive approach. Patients are going to appreciate the individualized attention that they are going to get every step of the way. And the way our offices work together, it helps to coordinate and make sure the patient doesn’t have to determine which office to go to.”

Drs. Potter and Gorman work cohesively to ensure their patients are receiving the best care. By staying in contact, there is no risk of loss of information. By working with each other consistently, they learn how the other works and can better inform patients on what to expect. Dr. Potter’s expertise in types of breast reconstruction and Dr. Gorman’s cancer-oriented breast surgery go hand in hand to create a strong team approach for treatment, recovery, and your best outcome.


The Cost of Breast Cancer Treatment: What are the Contributing Factors?

In a recent survey of patients diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, 38% said they were worried about finances due to their treatment. 14% said that their breast cancer cost them at least 10% of their household income. 17% said that they had spent even more than that 10% on out-of-pocket medical expenses.

When doctors, surgeons, and radiation oncologists were asked about how their offices handle financial discussions with their patients, 50% of medical oncologists reported that someone in their practice “often or always discusses financial burden” with their patients. 43% of radiation oncologists said they did as well. Only 16% of surgeons reported the same.

Furthermore, no one seems to know, going in, just how far a diagnosis of breast cancer is going to set them back financially. It is difficult to find answers about the cost of treatment, whether for surgery, radiation, or other medications. We are taking this chance to clear the air between doctors and patients; we can give the answers that so many have been looking for and help to start the conversation so you can be prepared should this diagnosis ever come your way.

Total Costs

In 2010, breast cancer was the highest-costing cancer in the United States. Nationwide, it cost a total of $16.5 billion. By 2020, this is expected to increase to $20.5 billion. The American Cancer Society estimates that over $180 billion is spent on health care expenses and lost productivity every year due to cancer.

Of course, each person’s case is unique. Their access to insurance must be taken into consideration. Different stages of cancer are harder to treat than others, which can affect overall treatment costs. Not to mention that disease takes root differently in each person, so it must be treated differently. And with no one-size-fits-all treatment, there is no one-size-fits-all price tag. All of these factors must be considered.

Stages

The stage at which a patient’s breast cancer is discovered significantly affects how difficult it is to treat. A study was done recently and published in The American Health and Drug Benefits1 on the cost and frequency of some treatments based on the cancer stage and how long it had been since the diagnosis.

It was not much of a surprise to find that those patients with more advanced stages of breast cancer spent more on treatments. For those with stage 0 cancer, the average cost of treatment at twelve months after diagnosis was $60, 637. After twenty-four months, the price had jumped to $71, 909 per patient overall.

For those whose cancer had advanced to stages I-II, their medical costs were approximately $82,121 in the first twelve months of treatment. In the second twelve months, each patient still in the study brought the total average to $97, 066.

With breast cancer in stage III, the average cost in the first twelve months continued to rise to $129,387. After a full twenty-four months, the study reported that patients spent an average of $159,442.

At stage IV, the most difficult to treat, the average treatment costs were $134,682 at twelve months and $182,655 at twenty-four.

According to the study, patients were paying an average of $85,772 within the first twelve months of being diagnosed with breast cancer, despite their cancer stage. And within the first two years of their diagnosis, the study reported their treatment costs averaging $103,735.

Treatments

Another major factor that will contribute to the overall cost of breast cancer treatment is the kind of treatment a patient is receiving. Which treatment you receive depends on the location, cancer stage, and extent to which the disease has spread. Sometimes the procedures are combined to get the best results and return you to health quicker and more effectively. The same study mentioned above also explored the average amount spent on categories of treatments, and how common these kinds of treatments were within the given periods.

Surgery

Surgery is a standard treatment for a breast cancer diagnosis. If applicable, it is a way to remove cancer physically from where it has taken root. Altogether, surgical treatment accounts for an average of 20% of the cost of breast cancer care treatments within the first year after diagnosis, and 4% in the second year.

  • Inpatient breast cancer surgery accounts for 6% of the cost treatment in the first year, and 2% in the second year. In the first year of treatment, the cost of breast cancer surgery is, on average, $4,762, while in the second year after diagnosis, the cost is approximately $347.
  • Outpatient breast cancer surgery accounts for approximately 14% of the price of breast cancer treatment in the first twelve months, and 2% in the second. The cost of outpatient surgery in the first and second years were found to be, on average, $11,691 and $389 respectively.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is another well-known treatment of cancer. It accounts for approximately 19% of breast cancer treatment in both the first and second year after diagnosis.

  • For general chemotherapy, the average cost (including all costs on the day of the treatment) in the first year is $15,113. As this accounts for 18% of the payment for treatment for breast cancer, this is particularly significant. In the second year post-diagnosis, the average cost for this treatment is $3,625. This makes up 16% of all breast cancer treatment costs.
  • Oral chemotherapy is far less conventional. It only accounts for approximately 1% of the costs of first-year treatment, and 3% in the second year. Patients are usually paying $432 in their first year and $636 in their second year for this treatment.

Radiation

Radiation is used to kill the tumors by damaging cancer cells’ DNA. It is often used in combination with surgery. It makes up 18% of diagnosis treatment costs in the first year and 3% in the second year. In the first year, it costs an average of $15,455, while in the second year, patients pay $638.

Medication

Hand in hand with these major treatments come medications. Medications make up for 3% of the first year’s medical payments, and 7% of the second year. That equates to approximately $2,258 and $1,510 respectively.

Other Treatments

There are, of course, other treatments. Smaller subcategories that don’t quite fit these above, including hormone therapy, additional inpatient or outpatient care, or professional or specialist care. They make up about 42% of potential treatment costs in the first year and 67% of costs in the second year. That equates to $35,762 in the first twelve months and $14,980 in the second.

Health Insurance

Another factor that contributes to the overall cost of breast cancer treatment is health insurance. Healthcare, the amount of coverage you have, and the type of coverage you have, are all essential to discuss with your doctor, oncologist, and surgical team to make sure you understand where you stand.

Researchers in North Carolina found that patients who received a cancer diagnosis and did not have insurance or Medicare paid $6,711 for medication, while those with insurance paid $3,616 and those with Medicare paid $3,090 simply because they do not have the means to negotiate for a lower price.

Often, clinical appointments are more costly, as well. Where an insured patient might pay approximately $65-246, a patient without insurance coverage would pay around $129-391.

Ask Questions/Dr. Gorman

Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer is near impossible to imagine, and even harder to plan for. But if you ever find yourself in that place, you have a little more knowledge about what to expect. One should always be prepared for the unexpected, and it never hurts to have a little money saved up for emergencies. But breast cancer treatment costs will require more than just a bit of your savings. However, with communication with your team and laying out your healthcare terms and concerns as you discuss your health plan, everyone can be on the same page and do what they can to work within your needs.

Dr. Valerie Gorman knows about the financial burden that comes with breast cancer. She is dedicated to offering her patients a personalized approach to breast surgery and the treatment of breast cancer. She and her team will help to create a treatment plan that best meets your needs, and most fits your lifestyle. Because of the experience and breadth of our specialists, a multitude of treatment options exists which can be tailored to your situation.

There is no need to panic when you hear the word cancer. We have walked alongside many people who have been diagnosed and understand your fears and concerns. It is our privilege to walk with you and help you through this difficult process.

 

 

 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822976/#idm139828318640480title

 

 


The BioZorb Marker Could Help Post-Surgical Breast Cancer Results and Clinical Imaging

What is BioZorb?

The BioZorb marker is a medical device meant to be implanted in the surgical site. Thanks to its open structure, it can be stitched into place by breast surgeons to avoid movement and allow the surrounding tissue to grow around the device after the procedure. The marker has six titanium clips that are used for future clinical imaging.

What is BioZorb Made of?

The structure itself is made of a material that is bioabsorbable, or able to be absorbed by the body. Therefore, as the tissue grows and reforms, the BioZorb can be absorbed, leaving behind only the titanium clips as tissue markers for imaging if necessary. This process takes approximately a year.

How Does BioZorb Help?

Using a BioZorb implant in breast cancer treatment can be helpful surgically, cosmetically, and with radiation treatment. Surgically, the implant–or the titanium clips if the implant has already been absorbed–can provide a perfect reference point for any future imaging for where the previous breast surgery and radiation procedures took place.

It can also assist with the structure of healing, which lends itself to improved breast cosmesis. Often with tumor removal, the breast can appear concave where the tissue grew in to fill the void the tumor left. However, BioZorb offers structure for the surrounding tissue to grow around to prevent any potential divots. This can sometimes help with oncoplastic surgery or post-lumpectomy cosmetic surgery. As for radiation therapy, the implant can provide a target for the beam to minimize the radiation damaging any surrounding tissue unnecessarily.

What are some facts about BioZorb?

Your doctor is placing an implant into your breast during this surgery. The implant is firm, but not painful and can usually be felt in the breast for 12 to 18 months, even once the surgical scars have healed. It will eventually be absorbed by the body.

When should BioZorb be used?

It is not uncommon for a patient to react strongly when they hear a diagnosis of breast cancer. They may want to avoid any risk and go straight for the total mastectomy, removing the full breast and therefore the cancer.

However, with a breast cancer team working with you on your treatment, there is more room for a personalized approach. The cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation, or a combination of the two, and when it is caught at an early stage, a total mastectomy is not needed. A lumpectomy can remove a tumor while leaving most of the breast intact.

It is in these cases that BioZorb is useful. When a patient is able to receive breast-conserving surgery, the cancerous tissue is removed by the breast surgeon, and then the skin is closed. From there, radiation may be administered by a radiation oncologist to reduce the risk of recurrence without damaging the surrounding tissue. This can be difficult without something in the breast to mark where the surgery took place. Sometimes, the empty space of the surgical site where the tumor was will fill with a liquid, forming a seroma, and this can be an indication of where to radiate.

However, if BioZorb is placed in the breast during surgery, the metal marker clips work like a road sign pointing the way for the radiologist to follow. Even after the body absorbs the coils, the clips remain in case they are needed again for imaging purposes.

Dr. Gorman and BioZorb

Dr. Valerie Gorman uses BioZorb in applicable cases to help her patients recover with less pain, less cosmetic adjustment, and more accurate imaging. But she did not take this step lightly. Before jumping all in with BioZorb, she was involved with a study testing accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI) using her preferred intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). The IMRT was directed in each of the 57 cases by a BioZorb device to keep the radiation localized.

They found that, in the follow-up visits, the cosmetic results were excellent on all accounts. Only one patient experienced pain in the area, at it was easily treated. Patients were pleased with the results.

Dr. Gorman has worked with BioZorb before, and she and her team know the benefits it can bring. She will answer any questions you have. She always wants you to be comfortable and knowledgeable about your treatment, which is why she has done her own research into BioZorb. She wants you to receive the best treatment and best results long term.


FAQs About Mastectomy

What are the types of mastectomy?

 

  • Simple/Total Mastectomy–The entire breast is removed; lymph nodes and muscle are not removed.
  • Radical Mastectomy–The entire breast is removed, this time including the pectoral muscles and lymph nodes extending under the arm. This is rarely done today.
  • Modified Radical Mastectomy–Removes the entire breast including the lymph nodes;
  • Double Mastectomy–Both breasts are removed.
  • Lumpectomy/Partial Mastectomy–Part of the breast is removed, namely abnormal tissue or cancer, rather than the whole breast, just removing the lump.
  • Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy–The breast tissue is removed, but the nipple and skin are left unscathed.
  • Skin-Sparing Mastectomy–The skin is left intact while the breast tissue, areola, and nipple are removed.

 

Mastectomies are recommended for those who have large tumors or tumors that affect multiple areas of the breast. They can also be used as a preventative measure for those who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or other genetic mutations that increase your risk of breast cancer. The skin- and nipple-sparing mastectomies are newer surgeries. These are optimal for minimal scarring and reconstruction.

What is recovery like for a mastectomy?

Your stay in the hospital after a mastectomy will vary depending on the kind of mastectomy you had, your reactions to the anesthesia, and whether or not you had reconstruction done at the time. However, it can be guaranteed that after surgery, you will be taken to a recovery room until the nurses are sure you are stable and (mostly) alert. At this point, you will be wheeled along to your hospital room where you will stay approximately 1-2 days.

Then, once you are home, you must keep the incisions clean. Your surgeon will give you instructions on how to do so, as well as how to care for your drainage tube, which you will only have with you until your follow up exam.

Your doctor should prescribe you medication for your pain, though the levels vary depending on the location, type of mastectomy, and amount of tissue taken. Follow your doctor’s instructions for approved medication intake.

It usually only takes a few weeks to be back to normal activities, though anything that uses your arms a lot or seems strenuous to your body should be approached cautiously for a while. If you’re ever unsure, you can always check with your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry. But soon enough you’ll be back on your feet and facing the world again.

What are mastectomy recovery tools?

While you are recovering, there will be many things you will have directly on your mind. There will be drains to empty and keep untangled, pain medications and antibiotics to keep track of, what will be waiting at home after your stay in the hospital, and your life at large to consider. But there are some tools to help you stay comfortable while you heal. And some people have been patients before you. They have tips to recommend based on their experience.

Some tools that many find helpful are drain belts or robes and mastectomy pillows. There are variations on both of these tools, but both offer support and work to simplify your recovery.

After the mastectomy, drains are left in the area to allow any access fluid to leave the body rather than pooling. The fluid follows a tube to a bulb that you empty regularly and record the amount in them. However, the tubes can quickly become an inconvenience with a risk of snagging. The easiest solution is to attach the drains to your clothes with the velcro attachment or clip them onto a lanyard. But other people have come up with more comfortable and convenient solutions. There are now drain belts, which are comfortable belts with holster-like pockets in which the bulbs can sit. There are drain robes that have pockets to keep the drains out of your way. And some companies produce adhesive pockets that will attach to whatever clothes you wear, making your pajamas into drain holders. Dr. Gorman’s surgical team will provide a bra for you post-operatively that includes rings to which you can attach your drains.

Mastectomy pillows are pillows that are shaped or placed in a way to help support you after your surgery. This can be anything from a regular pillow that is placed under your knees to raise your legs and increase blood flow to the armpit pillow–a rectangular pillow that lays over your chest with notches cut out for your arms. Some provide support for both breasts, while others go between the breast tissue of one breast and the other. Find the pillow that minimizes pain and discomfort and offers the support and comfort you will need. Volunteers in our community sew rectangular post-op pillows for Dr. Gorman’s patients. Each of Dr. Gorman’s patients receives one of these pillows in recovery immediately after surgery.

Previous breast cancer patients have made suggestions to make your recovery as easy as possible. First, stock up on food—at least two weeks’ worth–before your surgery. You will not want to go shopping while you are healing. And while you may not want to eat right away, you should try to find something light on the stomach so you can take it with your pain medication, such as yogurt or pudding.

When you take your first shower about two days after your surgery—or when Dr. Gorman clears you to do so—it’s generally best to do so sitting in a shower chair. You have been off of your feet and on medication since your mastectomy. It’s safest to sit while you clean yourself off.

Avoid housework. Think of this as an excuse to avoid your chores for as long as you can. You need to heal before you start expending that kind of effort. Similarly, don’t try to rush back to work. Many women recommend waiting at least three weeks before returning to your job. Returning too quickly could not only tire you out but could potentially cause complications. This advice is especially relevant to those who have reconstruction surgery, as well.

Dr. Gorman’s team provides a one-on-one education time for each patient that covers all of this information and more prior to a mastectomy.

What will my mastectomy scars look like?

The type or amount of scarring will differ based on the type of mastectomy you are having done. The total, radical, and modified radical mastectomies will leave a visibly large scar as a large amount of tissue/skin is removed. However, with partial/lumpectomies, skin-sparing, and nipple-sparing mastectomies, the scars are less noticeable. Skin-sparing mastectomies tend to leave behind a scar that is usually where the nipple was previously. The scar of the lumpectomy is small and linear and tends to be hidden away in the crease or around the nipple to avoid detection. Lastly, the nipple-sparing mastectomy generally leaves a scar under the breast, where it can be tucked away in the bra-line to avoid visibility.

The Texas Breast Center utilizes Hidden Scar™ Breast Cancer Surgery to help minimalize scarring in patients. Dr. Gorman works with each patient to make the right decision for them on the right kind of mastectomy, and from there to ensure the scarring will be minimal and where it will as minimally intrusive as possible.

How does breast reconstruction work?

Not everyone has breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. For example, those having lumpectomies do not necessarily need one, because a majority of the breast tissue is left alone in the breast. With a mastectomy, reconstruction is more likely as all the tissue was removed. However, it really is up to the patient. Talk to your surgeon about your preferences so that they can be informed when discussing your options with you

What are the risks of a mastectomy?

A mastectomy, like any other surgery, has its risks. There will be swelling in the area, as well as bruising for a while after the surgery. The breast will be sore and scar tissue will form and likely harden. Some patients experience phantom pain in removed breasts. More seriously, however, the incisions could bleed or become infected, or, more rarely, skin necrosis. There is a risk of lymphedema or swelling in the arm where lymph nodes were removed. Seromas (fluid filling the now-empty breast) can form. And not the least of the risks can be a change in self-confidence.

Dr. Gorman is aware of these risks and is there to help prevent them. If they can’t be avoided, she will support you through them and work with you on a plan to improve, step by step.

Should I have radiation or chemo with my mastectomy?

Chemotherapy is not used in all cases of breast cancer. And, if it is used, it is not always used in the same way. There are two primary ways it is used concerning surgery.

Some kinds of chemotherapy–neoadjuvant chemotherapy–is used before surgery as an attempt to shrink the tumor to a more manageable size that requires less extensive surgery. Adjuvant chemotherapy is given after surgery to kill any possible remaining circulating cells that may have been left behind to prevent more tumor growth.

Radiation is often recommended after a mastectomy as a tool to prevent the recurrence of cancerous growth. Traditionally, radiation is administered for five to six weeks, up to five days a week. However, Dr. Gorman has experience with a method that only takes five days, with less waiting period between surgery and the radiation beginning for post-lumpectomy patients.

Can men get a mastectomy?

Breast cancer in men may be rare, but it is still very possible. Only 1% of breast cancer diagnoses are in men, but that still accounts for 1 in every 1,000 men. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma is the most common form of breast cancer found in men. Like in women, black men have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those of other races. Take precautions and familiarize yourself with the breast area by firmly feeling over the breast tissue in the area for anything unusual.

If a man receives a diagnosis for breast cancer, there is a high chance surgery will be involved in treatment. The operation could be used to establish how far into the lymph nodes the cancer has spread (a sentinel lymph node biopsy, for example), to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer, or to remove as much of the tumor itself as possible (a mastectomy).

All of these and a few more can be performed on a man to help treat him for breast cancer. It is not just women who get this disease, and today’s treatments reflect that.

How do I take blood pressure after a mastectomy?

There is some question about where to have blood pressure taken and blood drawn from post-mastectomy; more specifically, patients ask whether it is safe to do these things on the same side of the body as the mastectomy. While you can have your blood pressure tested from either arm without causing any trouble to your healing process, there could be a (minimal) risk when it comes to drawing blood after breast cancer surgery.

After certain types of mastectomies–radical mastectomy, modified radical mastectomy, sentinel lymph biopsy, or any procedure when the lymph nodes are removed–there is a risk of lymphedema. Lymphedema is a swelling of the arm and usually stems from an infection of the arm. Because having blood drawn in a medical facility is done in a clinical environment with sterile equipment, the already small risk of infection becomes minimal. However, it is still recommended to take the ‘better safe than sorry’ route and instead have your blood drawn from the arm opposite your operation.

The same goes for vaccines and other injections. While the medication won’t cause any complications, it’s best to reduce the chances of introducing possible infections to the area soon after your breast surgery or years later.

What do I ask my surgeon?

You should always prepare a few questions when going into a procedure like this. Likely, a number of them will get answered simply through the surgeon’s explanation of the process, but it never hurts to be prepared. Here a few to get you started:

 

  • What are the risks of my type of mastectomy?
  • Will I need reconstruction? Can it be done in the same procedure?
  • How can I prepare my home for my recovery before the procedure?
  • How can I emotionally prepare for this?
  • What medicines/foods should I or shouldn’t I take on the day of the procedure?
  • Who will perform my breast reconstruction surgery?
  • How much breast tissue will be removed in my mastectomy?
  • Will I need radiation therapy?
  • How long will I stay in the hospital?
  • Will I need to return for additional surgery?

And remember, there really are no stupid questions. None. This is your surgery, you deserve to know about it, and Dr. Gorman is here to help you understand. Ask away and she will do her best to answer. She will help with your before questions, your after questions, and your it’s-been-a-while-but-this-just-occurred-to-me questions. Being informed is something she wants for all of her patients, and something she will do her best to ensure as she walks with you every step of the way.

Who performs a mastectomy?

A breast cancer surgeon will perform your mastectomy, and a plastic surgeon will perform your breast reconstruction should you have that done. When choosing your surgeon, Johns Hopkins recommends a surgeon who:

  • Specializes in breast cancer
  • Is recognized as a breast surgical oncologist
  • Performs many breast cancer surgeries each year

 

Looking at these qualifications, Dr. Valerie Gorman at the Texas Breast Center can be your breast cancer surgeon, and of course, is always ready to help. Her specialty is breast cancer surgery and its related topics. Her residency was in general surgery, though with a focus on detecting and treating breast cancer. She is also currently serving as the Chief of Surgery and Medical Director of Surgical Services at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center, as well as board-certified by the American Board of Surgery.

At the Texas Breast Center, mastectomies and other breast cancer surgeries are what Dr. Gorman is known for, and she performs them year-round.


How Developments In Breast Cancer Research Have Improved Treatment In The Last Thirty Years

breast cancer treatmentWe want to feature a recent study by Rufus Mark, MD, Gail Lebovic, MD, Valerie Gorman, MD, Oscar Calvo, PhD. on recent developments in Breast Cancer Treatment.

Continue reading “How Developments In Breast Cancer Research Have Improved Treatment In The Last Thirty Years” »