25 Aug Life After Breast Cancer: An Innovative Approach to Breast Reconstruction
I have one breast.
Well, I don’t, but my aunt does. My friend’s mom does. My friend does, too. I think most of us know someone who has breast cancer, which made me ask myself this question.
‘What is the quality of life after breast cancer surgery?’
Doctors frequently recommend a woman diagnosed with breast cancer go through the surgical removal of the affected breast, and sometimes also of the healthy one for prevention. This procedure, called a mastectomy (the tumor and all the breast tissue are removed) is then followed by after-surgery treatments that include radiation, hormonal therapy, and the more common chemotherapy. That does not sound fun. What if there could be an alternative, a breast saving surgery? Tensive is working on it, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Nowadays, the emergence of new technologies for early stage breast cancer or small tumor detection is generating a shift from mastectomy to lumpectomy surgery. Lumpectomy is the removal of the malignant tumor (or lump) and a portion of the surrounding healthy tissue from the breast. Which surgery to select is not a simple decision and unfortunately, the choice is made in a rushed and frightening moment, in response to the devastating diagnosis of the tumor or by strong doctor’s suggestion. The decision is impacted by concerns about developing another cancer, the need for another surgery in the future, aesthetic results obtained after breast reconstruction that currently disappoints many patients and financial costs connected to monitoring the healthy breast and/or future second intervention.
Another key element of this equation is available reconstructive surgery options after the tumor resection. Unfortunately not many. Today, the most common treatment for breast tissue amputation is using prosthetic silicone implants, an old technology that doesn’t reconstruct, and brings with it some potential risks including leakage and rupture, in addition to others.
In fact, after several years the prostheses need to be replaced in most cases, requiring a new surgery, with all the associated pain and costs. And if the woman undergoes a lumpectomy, the silicone implant is an option difficult to use, as it cannot be customized in shape to fill the missing breast. No dedicated devices exist still now, for lumpectomy post operations deformities. An available alternative can be fat grafting procedure (removing the fat by liposuction from another part of the body and injecting it into the breast). However, this technique requires several interventions for larger volumes.
So, what does a woman with breast cancer face emotionally? She is suffering from her diagnosis, her breast needs to be removed, and no optimal option exists for reconstruction following mastectomy or lumpectomy, impacting her self-confidence.
A young and passionate entrepreneur, Valentina Morigi and her team at Tensive, are working on new solutions for reconstructive surgery in order to improve the quality of life of breast cancer patients by giving them a valid alternative to silicone implants. Valentina, with a background in business and finance, in addition to a strong passion for science, decided to quit a lucrative job in consulting, and devote her life to the mission of helping biomedical breakthroughs to reach the market and patients in need.
Her company is developing innovative prostheses aiming to restore a natural and permanent breast to oncological patients who experience reconstructive surgery after tumor resection. Tensive’s revolutionary technology aims to stimulate the regeneration of natural fat. Tensive prostheses, not yet tested on humans, are based on synthetic and biodegradable biomaterials and designed to be gradually degraded and replaced by the patient’s fat tissue once the regeneration is complete. ‘The loss of a breast (or a part of it) may have a profound psychological impact on oncological patients. Tensive’s mission is to improve their quality of life and to significantly reduce the number of expensive and painful surgical operations needed,’ says Valentina.
Tensive was funded in 2012 in Milan and has onboard 7 experts with scientific, clinical, financial and commercial skills: Alberto Cantaluppi, Gianfranco Bellezza, Federico Martello, Valentina Morigi, Alessandro Tocchio, Irini Gerges and Margherita Tamplenizza. They just raised €1.4 million in a funding round that will allow them to conduct the preclinical validation of their revolutionary product.
I will never know what it feels like to have breast cancer. But for the millions of women that will, Tensive provides hope for a new beginning. And after you experience cancer, I think a new beginning is a good start.
Brian Rashid is an international speaker and trainer on topics of leadership, storytelling and the future of work.