Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Suzanne Somers - Breast Cancer Survivor
Suzanne Somers has never cared much for convention. Given a choice between business as usual and the road not taken, she’ll almost always choose the latter — especially where her health is concerned. In 2006, she sparked a much-publicized debate when she spoke out in favor of bioidentical hormone therapy, a controversial treatment for menopause that was the subject of her book Ageless: The Naked Truth About Bioidentical Hormones. Then, in 2008, she made headlines again when she published another book, Knockout, advocating alternative cancer treatments over traditional methods like chemotherapy and radiation.
“I appreciate health care that gets to the root cause of our symptoms and promotes wellness, rather than the one-size-fits-all drug-based approach to treating disease,” explains Somers, 65. “I love maintaining an optimal quality of life — naturally.”
Somers first began researching alternative cancer therapies in 2001, after doctors found a tumor in one of her breasts. At the time, she declined chemotherapy but had a lumpectomy and 35 days of radiation, which left the right side of her chest deflated and small. Surgeons offered her two reconstructive options: implants (plural, meaning they would have to also remove her healthy breast) or a TRAM flap, a procedure that uses muscle, fat, and skin from the abdomen to create a new breast. Most women seeking post-treatment reconstruction choose one or the other — but Somers is not most women.
“I said, ‘Sew me back up,’” she recalls. “I knew something better would come along.”
A few years later, something did come along. In 2003, Kotaro Yoshimura, MD, a professor and surgeon at the University of Tokyo in Japan, began testing an innovative procedure he called cell-assisted lipotransfer, or CAL, in which autologous adipose-derived stem cells (those extracted from a person’s own fat) are injected along with other fat cells to plump up or replace tissue, as in the breast.
Transplanting fat alone is not a particularly novel undertaking — fat transplants were first performed more than a century ago and have been used by cosmetic surgeons in recent years to fill wrinkles, lift buttocks, and enlarge breasts, among other things — but fat transplantation does have a somewhat controversial history. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons deemed it safe only within the last couple of years, and some questions still remain about its long-term risks and viability. Plus, because it takes several days for blood vessels to reach the transplanted fat, some of the cells (as much as 60 percent) die or atrophy after injection, often resulting in the need for follow-up procedures. And while there’s little chance of rejection with fat grafts — because they’re your body’s own tissue — there is a risk of calcification (hardening), which some experts worry could interfere with future breast cancer diagnoses.
To help remedy some of these issues, Dr. Yoshimura came up with the idea to enrich the injected fat with a higher concentration of stem cells. Stem cells are thought to help preserve and even regenerate fat cells by stimulating growth of blood vessels.
Adipose tissue, or body fat, already contains a certain number of stem cells — about one for every four adipocyte fat cells — but Yoshimura and his colleagues believed that increasing the concentration could enhance survival rates of the tissue and reduce post-operative atrophy. To do this, they used liposuction to remove fat from another part of the patient’s body (for example, her stomach, hip, or thigh), set aside a portion of it to be reinjected, and then isolated the stem cells from the remaining tissue to be combined with the reserved fat. This stem cell-rich mixture was then used as a kind of natural cosmetic filler.
Initial results were promising, and other trials soon followed. To date, Yoshimura has performed the procedure on more than 400 women.