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New Device Prepares Breast Cancer Survivors For Reconstruction Surgery

By Karen Anderson, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – In May of 2010 Joan Greffrath of Worcester received a life-changing diagnosis. She had breast cancer. The news was followed by a mastectomy and 14 months of chemotherapy. Joan knew from the beginning she wanted breast reconstruction surgery. “I had watched my mother struggle with breast cancer and the scars,” explains Joan.

And now her experience could help countless other women. Joan is the first breast cancer survivor at UMass Medical School to use a remote-controlled device to prepare for breast reconstruction. The AirXpander stretches the skin to make room for the implant, without using needles. “Having had 14 months of chemo, having no needles was wonderful,” says Joan with a big smile.

Right now, most women preparing for reconstruction have to go to the doctor’s office to get painful injections of saline. With the AirXpander, women receive an implant that contains a cartridge of carbon dioxide and an antennae. A transponder remotely triggers the release of gas up to three times a day. It’s virtually pain-free and can be done in the comfort of a patient’s own home. Joan describes the sensation, “essentially when you do it it feels like nothing. About 10 minutes later you can feel a tiny burn or a tingling. But, that goes away within a brief time.”

Using the AirXpander a woman can be ready for surgery in a few short weeks instead of the regular 6-month wait. Joan’s doctor, Dr. John Castle, says this device could completely replace the saline method. “Less pain,faster expansion, and a better experience through a very tough disease.” Joan agrees, “This was a gift. A very valuable gift.”

The AirXpander is undergoing clinical trials at just 10 hospitals across the country. It could win approval over the next year or two. If you’d like to learn more about the clinical trial at UMass Medical School call 800-240-2747.

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