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Sydney surgical team performs Australian-first procedure to help breast cancer patient

March 11, 2022

Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing autologous breast reconstruction now have access to an advanced, minimally invasive surgical option at Sydney’s Westmead Private Hospital designed to offer patients better results and a faster recovery.

The surgery, a laparoscopically assisted DIEP Flap, was performed in Australia for the first time recently at Ramsay Health Care’s Westmead Private Hospital.

Autologous based breast reconstruction can be used for breast cancer patients following mastectomy. It uses healthy tissue, called a flap, from elsewhere in the body to reconstruct the breast.

A DIEP flap is where the lower abdominal skin, fat and blood vessels are taken and expertly reattached to the chest using microsurgery.

The surgical team involved in the Australian-first procedure included Specialist Plastic Surgeons Dr Bish Soliman and Dr Varun Harish, Breast Surgeons Associate Professor James French and Dr Negin Sedaghat and General Surgeon Dr Lawrence Yuen.

Dr Bish Soliman said the revolutionary new laparoscopically assisted DIEP Flap Harvest uses laparoscopic instruments to minimise fascial incisions and consequent denervation of the abdominal wall.  

“Autologous breast reconstruction has markedly evolved since the transverse rectus abdominis muscle flap initially described in 1982,” Dr Soliman said.

“The reported advantages of a laparoscopic-assisted approach include minimising the fascial incision length and reducing both the incidence of nerve damage and the dissection process which may result in a weakened abdominal wall.

It is hypothesised that this results in a quicker recovery, less pain and reduced donor-site morbidity.”

Dr Soliman said a lot of prior planning by the team was needed to ensure the best result. 

“This is a team effort, where we brainstormed the idea, looked at journal articles from overseas and came up with a plan where everyone knew their role and were able to execute it,” he said.

“It was exciting to push the envelope and evolve whilst putting patient safety first.

“Improving surgical interventions is key to improving surgical outcomes.

Cathy Watton, 51, was Dr Soliman’s first patient after being diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2021.

“When I was asked about being the first patient for this new procedure I was unsure but also quite proud,” Ms Watton said.

“Dr Soliman explained the difference between his current method and the procedure he was going to do on me. If I was to be honest, I was very nervous but I put my trust in him and his team.

Today I feel great, I was never going to let breast cancer rule me.”

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