Advances in reconstructive surgery improve outcomes for breast cancer patients

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and patients have much to celebrate when it comes to advances in reconstructive surgery.

New techniques and more natural implants are giving women more options and better outcomes after mastectomies.

Erica Virgil was just 31 and the mother of one-year-old twins when she was diagnosed with early stage two breast cancer in 2014.

She had no family history of breast cancer, but decided to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.

During her mastectomy surgery she was fitted with temporary implants or expanders to begin the process.

The expanders are inflated over time to allow room for permanent implants and let the patient decide their new size.

"For me, choosing reconstruction made me more of who I was pre breast cancer.   I wanted to see myself as myself and not be reminded of this every time," said Virgil.

Plastic surgeons say they used to focus on making the breast look good in clothes, but now the goal is to make them look as natural as possible period.

"The expanders are tear drop shaped and expand the bottom of the breast more so they expand the upper breast so it looks more like a breast, less rounded and more like a typical female breast. And then the adjunctive things we do to help the outcome is take fat from the abdominal area with liposuction and we use that to finesse and improve the contours of the breast after you put in the implant and also you do the nipple reconstruction.  You can do it multiple ways," said Dr. Ben Gbulie with University Plastic Surgeons in Memphis.

Woman who are candidates can also opt to have the one and done procedure where doctors remove the cancer and put in the permanent implants in a single surgery.