Observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month with Progressive Plastic Surgery Techniques
By Lydia Caplan Blank | Photograph by Michael Fornataro
No matter her age, race, or lifestyle, a breast cancer diagnosis can knock a woman off her feet. Some women may choose to tackle the cancer head on, have it removed immediately by the surgeon who can do it the soonest, and worry about what their body will look like later. Or maybe not at all. For others, realizing that their breast(s) may be removed or misshaped as a result of treatment may prompt her to search for as much information as she can find, to choose a course of action that feels right for her. Either way, understanding all surgical options is essential. And choosing the right surgeon is critical.
Enter Dr. Jim O’Toole. The double board-certified plastic surgeon is revered by many as one of the most innovative, progressive plastic surgeons in the field, especially when it comes to his approach to breast cancer care. As an added bonus, his private practice is located right here in Pittsburgh, a true gem for our fair city.
“I see over 300 breast cancer patients annually, in every stage of their cancer battle,” he says. “Some come to me right after diagnosis, but many come looking for help after they’ve already had surgery and they are not satisfied with how their body looks. Many have even been told that their only option is to settle and to just be happy that they are alive. My philosophy is, ‘You should never have to settle for just OK.’”
This refreshing, “won’t take no for an answer” attitude is what has kept O’Toole’s practice flourishing. He has been helping women look and feel beautiful for more than 15 years. O’Toole is one of the first plastic surgeons in the nation to combine the aesthetic-centered incision patterns and techniques of a cosmetic surgeon with medically centered practices to create a more beautiful end result.
“I prefer to work hand-in-hand with my patient’s oncology team and their family up front to develop a surgical plan that will not only remove the cancer, but help my patient look beautiful after surgery, too,” says O’Toole. “When you look great, you heal faster. Getting my patients back to their life as usual is key.”
A newer procedure that he uses for many breast reconstruction revision patients is called fat grafting. Unlike other more complex surgeries, this 30-minute, outpatient procedure helps to improve skin quality on the breast, and improves or eliminates contour deformities and irregularities, as a result of multiple surgeries or radiation.
“Essentially, we take the fat from stubborn problem areas on the body and inject it into the breast,” he says. “It’s a quick procedure that requires a tiny, 3 mm needle. Aside from the amazing results, the best part is that we can remove fat from somewhere you don’t want it and put it somewhere you do!”
In early October, O’Toole will share details of his progressive fat grafting techniques at the annual Joining FORCEs conference in Orlando, Fla. (FORCE is an acronym that stands for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.) The conference will present a wide range of topics, as well as the latest research on hereditary cancers. Attendees include survivors, pre-vivors (those who have not developed cancer, but have endured prophylactic surgery to try and avoid it), people with a BRCA (BReast CAncer susceptibility gene) mutation or family history of cancer, patient advocates, researchers, and health care providers who treat high-risk patients. O’Toole will be speaking to this international audience in conjunction with a panel of other nationally recognized breast cancer experts.
“We are so pleased that Dr. O’Toole will be speaking at our conference, sharing his expertise with our community,” says Sue Friedman, founder and executive director of FORCE. “Women who have undergone or are considering mastectomy have many options for reconstruction. In order to make an informed decision, they need to have access to credible information from experts in breast reconstruction. Reconstruction technology and procedures have improved over the last decade, and women can achieve very natural-looking outcomes with some of the newer techniques, including fat grafting.”
O’Toole also supports FORCE personally by contributing to its conference scholarship fund, which allows women, who don’t otherwise have the means, to attend. He is also an annual sponsor for the organization’s online Post Mastectomy photo gallery.
“It’s incredibly important to me that women have access to as much information as possible so that they can make informed decisions about their health care choices. A conference like this one is a great opportunity for women to learn what’s possible and find out who can help.”