Pig tissue used in reconstructive surgery on breast cancer patients

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Breast cancer patients are being offered new reconstructive treatment which involves using tissue from pigs.

The procedure at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital cuts the number of operations each patient requires, enabling them to have reconstruction at the same time as their breast is removed.

The porcine tissue is grafted on to the bottom of the muscle underneath the breast following a mastectomy. It is a change to the traditional procedure which uses a tissue expander like a balloon to gradually create the space for an implant, inserted during another operation at a later date.

Simon Cawthorn, breast surgeon at Southmead, said the hospital has treated around 40 women in this way. “We have had very few complications and [the patients] are very pleased,” he said.

“It is now offered as a routine procedure as part of the treatment with the plastic surgeons here.”

The treatment was funded by a grant from the Bristol-based charity Breast Cancer Unit Support Trust (Bust). Trustee Jenny Wookey said: “We are delighted that we have been able, through the generosity of people who donate to us, to be able to finance this new treatment.”

Bust, which has raised more than £1m in little over two decades since it was founded, provided the hospital with a grant of around £20,000 to fund 10 such grafts.

It is hoped its success will allow further treatment to be made available on the NHS in future, through cutting the time patients are required to spend in hospital.

The treatment was first pioneered in the United States at the turn of the millennium and has gradually been introduced at hospitals across parts of the UK.

Mr Cawthorn added: “All of the animal DNA is taken out of the tissue, it is safe and our patients like it. It is treatment best suited to small tumours, picked up early, on women with busts up to a C or D cup.

“Some patients tend not to want to take tissue from other parts of their body, so this is a good alternative.

“I think this is the beginning of more exciting developments.”