Novel surgery offers new hope for breast cancer patients

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Novel surgery offers new hope for breast cancer patients

Toronto, September 24, 2015

By Melissa Di Costanzo

Dr. Adena Scheer practices oncoplastic surgery
Dr. Adena Scheer practices oncoplastic surgery, which allows for remaining breast tissue to be shifted and sculpted after the tumor is removed. (Photo by Katie Cooper).

Dr. Adena Scheer is the only physician at St. Michael’s – and one of few in Canada – mastering a new, less invasive way to preserve and reshape tissue following breast cancer surgery.

Mastectomies or lumpectomies are both traditional procedures that help to eradicate cancer. Both can cause scarring and disfigurement.

Oncoplastic surgery allows for remaining tissue to be shifted and sculpted after the tumour is removed, leading to fewer deformities and a shorter recovery time. The procedure can be as short as two to three hours and patients don’t require an overnight hospital stay or home care. Patients can also choose to have the other breast modified to create evenness.

It’s not for everyone. The size of the tumour, the size of the tumour relative to the patient’s breast and the patient’s preference are all considered before a decision is made. But for those who are willing and able to opt in, the result is a smaller, more lifted breast with a natural appearance – and many patients are thrilled with the outcome.

“I get a lot of hugs,” said Dr. Scheer, whose area of clinical expertise is breast surgical oncology. “After they get over the shock of learning about their cancer, we can tell them we’re able to preserve their breast, and that cancer doesn’t mean their breasts are left completely unrecognizable, and they’re thrilled.”

Dr. Scheer is accustomed to hearing her breast cancer patients say: “Just remove the cancer; I just want it gone.”

“Now, we’re employing tools to afford women a better cosmetic outcome,” she said. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand and think that surgery like this won’t impact patients emotionally – it absolutely will.”

Dr. Scheer trained with a physician in Paris for five months to learn about oncoplastic surgery before coming to St. Michael’s after completing a fellowship in surgical oncology. She learned about the technique when she was a general surgical resident at the University of Ottawa.

Her interest in working with breast cancer patients stems from her research interest: taking information and making it digestible and usable for both patients and providers.

“Breast cancer patients are engaged in their care: they’re curious, they like to talk about options, and they’re interested in learning more about their disease,” she said. “I like being part of that shared decision making process with them.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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