TWIN FALLS — Breast cancer research is churning up study after study, and patients have just begun to see the significant changes in care that are happening.
Dr. Donald Paul Workman, a general surgeon in Twin Falls, has kept up with all the medical research. He says it’s been an exciting year for breast cancer because of the changes occurring now and in the near future.
For his patients, the research could mean less pain, better cosmetic results and fewer procedures.
What’s behind the sudden surge of new ideas? Workman believes it may be a result of the money that’s gone into AIDS research.
“They’re getting into God’s machinery and figuring out how the immune system works,” he said.
And they’re learning more about what causes cancer. The main thing, he said, is inflammation — such as that resulting from smoking, obesity or certain diets.
Here are just a few of the things Workman says have already taken place, or soon could, in Twin Falls:
Radiation treatments: With some small cancers, radiation isn’t always needed, he said. New molecular studies can now help determine how a cancer will behave and how it should be treated.
Workman and surgeons like him have been sending tissue samples out for testing. The results can guide providers as to whether chemotherapy or radiation would be beneficial.
“All women with breast cancer are basically guinea pigs for their daughters and their nieces,” Workman said.
But thanks to these studies, many women could be spared going through chemotherapy or radiation. Workman intends to send more samples out in the future to help a patient’s providers.
Robotic ultrasounds: Think 3-D mammography is high-tech? In the next few years, Workman expects more women will receive ultrasounds to detect breast cancer — using robots. The robots will carefully trace over the breast with sound waves, decreasing the need to use radiation.
Workman says this development will reduce some human error and allow for precise and methodical ultrasounds.
Lymph node removal: “It used to be the more breasts or lymph nodes we took out, the better surgeon we were,” Workman said.
But new data has shown that removing every lymph node — including those under the arm — does not affect the outcome. Now, surgeons are identifying and removing just the one or two lymph nodes that drain the breast, he said. This means fewer swollen arms for breast cancer patients.
Nipple-sparing procedures: With women who have smaller breasts, it’s now possible to leave the nipple in place during a mastectomy, Workman said.
A small incision at the crease of the breast then allows for the placement of prepectoral implants. This means that not only will a women’s breasts look more similar to their original condition, but reconstruction will take only one — and not a series of — procedures, saving money.
Less pain: Surgeons can now numb the ribs on both sides, reducing a patient’s pain after a mastectomy for up to days after the surgery. Ideally, this could allow for immediate reconstruction, Workman said.
The good news about all of these changes, he said, is that breast cancer patients will have plenty of choices about their care.