Regional Nerve Blocks Used As Breast Cancer Anesthesia

8:15 AM, Feb 9, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA)-- It's a question breast cancer patients preparing for surgery should ask; What type of anesthesia will you be getting? The answer could make a difference in your recovery and your risk for a recurrence. 

Laura Twombley O'Brien is an endoscopy nurse. She works with physicians in the GI lab at Washington Hospital Center. But last summer O'Brien was a patient at the hospital after being diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

O'Brien was initially confused by her diagnosis. "I had no idea what Triple Negative was. I thought it was negative so that must mean OK," she said.

But she quickly learned that Triple Negative is one of the rarest and most aggressive forms of breast cancer. It's usually diagnosed in black women and in younger women.

Prior to surgery O'Brien had several meetings with her medical team. She asked them what kind of anesthesia she'd receive throughout her treatment, which is a question patients typically neglect to ask.

Anesthesiologists used a unique type of anesthesia, Regional Nerve Blocks, in O'Brien's wire localization, sentinel node biopsy, and lumpectomy. 

Anesthesiologist Dr. Khalid Salem says this technique offers several advantages to breast cancer patients over general anesthesia.

"There is decreased pain after surgery; there is decreased tumor recurrence and there's decreased chances of chronic pain that sometimes happens a year after surgery," he said.

The Regional Nerve Blocks also help prevent toxic reactions since the anesthesiologist has to use less medicine than a standard anesthesia.

Breast surgeon Dr. Marc Boisvert says less toxins mean less stress on the body which can help reduce the risk of a recurrence.

"The regional anesthesia decreases the body's trauma response. We think if we can keep our immune system up, the better the chance of having a good outcome," Boisvert said.

O'Brien was thrilled with the doctor's choice to use Reginal Nerve blocks. "I think it's wonderful. It just makes it so much easier," she said.

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