Nipple Sparing

6:42 AM, May 9, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- In January, Buddy Check 9 introduced you to "Pre-vivor" Claudia Gilmore.  At age 23, the Georgetown graduate student took a pretty drastic step once she learned she was at higher risk for breast cancer.

Claudia chose to have both breasts removed.  Now we're updating you on Claudia and her life after an innovative surgical procedure for the treatment and reconstruction of her breasts.

"It is just such a huge, huge relief," she says.

Gilmore was determined to beat breast cancer before it beat her. After learning she had inherited the breast cancer gene mutation from her grandmother and her father, she opted for a double prophylactic mastectomy. She was only 23, but it's a decision she doesn't regret.

 "I just can't believe it...I did it. I reduced my risk by 90% ...it was such a surreal moment."

Claudia, who calls herself a "Pre-vivor," is documenting every step of her cancer journey.  Her film crew was even in the operating room when Georgetown University Hospital plastic surgeon Dr. Scott Spear performed an innovative procedure that helped Claudia retain an important part of the breast, her nipple.

"I think nipple sparing mastectomy is revolutionary," says Dr. Spear.  "It allows us to take a great many people who historically would have been disfigured having been treated for breast caner and leaving them looking normal."

Gilmore's surgery consisted of removing the maximum amount of potentially diseased breast tissue while preserving the nipple, areola and as much breast skin as possible. This also avoids the need for radiation and reduces the chance of a recurrence.

"The nipple sparing kind of allows you to think nothing is missing," says Dr. Spear.  "It's all still there; you're all still there."

In the past, reconstruction following a mastectomy would typically involve tattooing the areola and forming a small piece of skin into a nipple.

Gilmore says, "It looks like the same to me but even better."

The very best candidates for a nipple sparing mastectomy are women who don't have breast cancer, but are at high risk like Claudia due to the gene mutation. But generally, the majority of women are candidates for this procedure unless the cancer is too close to the nipple to preserve it.

"I like to finish up with the person smiling at me, because we haven't just treated the disease we've made their lives better."

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