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New Breast Cancer Surgery May Offer Better Patient Mental And Sexual Health

Dr. Ko Un (Clara) Park performs the robotic nipple-sparing surgery, a surgery she says is technically challenging but made easier with the robot.

Doctors are gradually learning sparing the nipple in breast cancer surgery is better for the patient for cosmetic, sexual and mental health reasons. Ohio State University's Comprehensive Cancer Center is enrolling patients in a clinical trialto determine the safety and efficacy of using a robot to do the surgery.

Assistant Professor of Surgery at OSU's James Cancer HospitalKo Un (Clara) Park says preserving the nipple and surrounding skin during breast cancer surgery is challenging. One way to offset that is by using a robotic surgical technique.

"The technology has been proven safe in many other operations such as colorectal surgery or cardiac surgery and general surgery," Park says. "However, the use of the robot and performing the nipple sparing mastectomy is a newer indication. It has been premiered in European and Asian countries since about five years ago."

Park says most women need surgery as part of their treatment, and a mastectomy removes the entire breast. But studies have shown that even many years later, patients undergoing a mastectomy experience different levels of psychosocial distress and sexual disfunction.

With nipple-sparing surgery, "The sensation is often not preserved but gives a more natural appearance of the breast and patients report feeling less mutilated and have a higher degree of sexual function," says Park.

Is It As Effective?

Even in 2016, the Mayo Clinic did a studyand determined patients receiving the nipple-sparing surgery were just as protected against a reoccurrence of breast cancer as those who had more invasive surgery.

Some of the patients in the study had the BRCA gene, which put them at higher risk of the cancer coming back.

Who Is Eligible For The Clinical Trial?

Park says it's traditionally performed in women who have tumors that are at least several centimeters away from the nipple. Appropriate candidates are also smaller breasted.

"We are hoping to have our data collected in about a year's time," says Park.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.