Andrea Webb’s Lucky Day
Breast reduction surgery led to a cancer diagnosis and a new breast cancer survivor.
Early in 2011, Andrea Webb went to see Dr. Michael Clinton to inquire about breast reduction surgery to lessen physical discomfort. “We went through all of the hoops required to get the surgery covered by health insurance. Once we were approved, we scheduled the surgery for September 2011.”
Webb, a McCalla resident who works in sales for a manufacturer, has been married for 15 years and has a 10-year-old daughter. She was excited about having the surgery and the relief from her physical discomfort.
“I had the surgery with Dr. Clinton and everything went well. I went back about two weeks later for the normal checkup,” Webb says.
What she discovered at that time shook her to the core and set her on a path of discovery, medical care, and recovery.
As a routine part of breast reduction surgery, breast tissue is sent off for a pathology report to determine if any cancer is present. This was just a routine part of surgical follow-up; routine that is until a 2-millimeter tumor was spotted in the tissue. While the pathology check is routine, cancer is not something they normally look closely for, according to Webb. It was pure happenstance that the cancer cells were even discovered.
“The discovery of breast cancer in Andrea is noteworthy on many levels,” Dr. Clinton says. “The first time an assisting nurse ever asked me whether we had ever found a cancer in the tissue removed during a routine breast reduction was during Andrea’s actual breast reduction. My answer was ‘no.’ I had never seen a breast cancer discovered in one of our breast reduction specimens. The irony was that cancer was found in the tissue removed during her reduction. When pathologists examine these breast reduction specimens, they only take a few representative slices. The chances of finding this extremely small (a few millimeters) cancer within this very large amount of tissue was extremely remote. Discovering breast cancer in someone this young (rare), under these very unusual circumstances created several emotions. There was fear, wonder, and gratitude. Fear of the future for breast cancer in a very young patient. Wonder that such small cancer was found in a large specimen after only a few views. Whereas we all felt sadness and concern regarding the diagnosis of cancer. Our attitude was quickly accompanied by gratitude that it was picked up at such an early stage, greatly improving her chance of survival,” Dr. Clinton says.
“Had it not been for her breast reduction, which proved to be a very important breast biopsy, it may have been years before this was discovered. The prognosis for this patient most assuredly would have been discouraging.”
“Dr. Clinton immediately recommended me to a cancer surgeon. He told me he had been doing this kind of surgery for more than 20 years and my situation was the first time he ever had to tell anyone that cancer had been found,” Webb says.
“It was caught really early. These kind of tumors are difficult to find on a mammogram and it was really a miracle that it was found when it was. The surgeon recommended a double mastectomy because there was such a high risk of a recurrence with this type of breast cancer. Plus it is difficult to detect.”
All of this occurred the week before Webb turned 30 years old.
“I wanted a second opinion and went to an oncologist and she pretty much concurred with the surgeon, saying that with the double mastectomy a lot of worry would be eliminated,” Webb says.
Two months to the day from the first breast reduction surgery, Andrea Webb had a double mastectomy, followed up after by reconstruction surgery with Dr. Clinton, the surgeon whose work brought the cancer to light.
“Breast reconstruction after cancer is what motivated me to choose plastic surgery as a surgical specialty. I found that I enjoyed putting things back together more than I did taking them apart. Early in my career, it comprised a majority of the patients that I treated. Two things have changed this for me. The surgical treatment of breast cancer leans more toward conservation. Conservation of the skin and even the nipple areola complex. Couple that with more partial mastectomies since cancer is being found much earlier when it is much smaller, and the result is less need for breast reconstruction. Most of the breast reconstruction patients that we currently see have had several other attempts already. We find it very satisfying to sit down with patients and work through options for restoration. Secondly, my practice has evolved more in the direction of breast enhancement than reconstruction. Honestly, my philosophy is that breast reconstruction is a part of the spectrum of breast enhancement. Our experience with augmentation, lifting, and reduction has only served to enhance our experience and hopefully optimized our results with reconstruction,” Dr. Clinton says.
In a short span of months, Webb underwent breast reduction, cancer surgery, and reconstruction. By the time it was over she was both tired and grateful. “That was at the end of 2011. I see the doctor every year or so. And everything is great. It was awful to go through, but I am very thankful for the way it all worked out and just glad to be here,” Webb says.