Breast Cancer Patient Benefits from Hidden Scar
When facing breast cancer, the frightening threat of the disease can sidetrack long-term thinking.
That’s what Jill Schlumbohm experienced when her doctors found two cancerous tumors in her breast in 2016.
“My focus was on beating this disease; doing all that I could to fight this,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking much about the procedure or its scars.”
A year later, Schlumbohm said she feels blessed. Her breast-cancer surgeon, Tricia Merrigan, MD, helped with that long-range thinking about the post-surgical look of her body.
Merrigan is one of the Midwest’s only breast-cancer surgeons to have certification in Hidden Scar™ Breast Cancer Surgery. Using this approach, surgeons make extra efforts to place surgery scars along the border of the dark skin surrounding the nipple, in a woman’s armpit or underneath her breast, making the marks much less visible.
Women who face any breast cancer surgery, including mastectomy, can benefit from this approach because it considers not only the removal of the tumor but the way the breast will look after surgery.
“Down the road, this approach to the procedure will give patients a better quality of life and in many cases, they cannot see the scar at all,” said Merrigan. “It’s as safe and addresses the cancer just as well as methods that do not address the cosmetic nature that Hidden Scar does.”
Merrigan said patients who face either lumpectomy or mastectomy surgeries can benefit from this innovative approach to scar location.
"Hidden Scar can be important even for high-risk patients who seek mastectomies for reducing their cancer risk,” said Merrigan. “We can use a nipple-sparing approach mastectomy in many cases, and this is an important technique we offer, even in the setting of breast cancer. This is a safe, but lesser-known, option available to many patients.”
While she completed an additional level of training to receive her certification, Merrigan said the idea of reducing the long-last visual reminders of breast cancer was something she has considered since beginning her career.
“Going the extra mile to provide that better long-term outcome, even in cases where there’s a mastectomy. It is becoming the new normal,” she said. “I would encourage all women to consider it or get a second opinion because while it does require some additional steps, it’s worth it and should be a consideration for all women who are good candidates for it.”
Avera Medical Group Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery physicians also are trained in the approach, and while Merrigan, who earned this certification in 2016, is the first surgeon in the Avera Medical Group Comprehensive Breast Care team to earn this certification, her surgical peers are in the process of completing it as well.
Schlumbohm said she hopes more women will learn about this approach to breast cancer surgery because it helped her so much.
“I feel complete and confident now, and I wouldn’t have that strong feeling if not for my care team,” Schlumbohm said. “Not having to see that reminder of the cancer every day is a true blessing.”