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Bringing Attention to Breast Cancer Reconstructive Surgery Options With Elizabeth Stirling Craig, MD

In this latest Breast Cancer Awareness Month interview, Dr. Elizabeth Stirling Craig, Director of Microvascular Breast Reconstruction at St. Vincent's Medical Center of Hartford HealthCare, explains the microsurgical techniques that she performs as a breast reconstructive surgeon and shares the importance of providing patients with a clear picture of the reconstructive options that are available to them. 

Oncology Data Advisor: Welcome to Oncology Data Advisor, I'm Keira Smith. Today I'm here with Dr. Elizabeth Stirling Craig, who is the Director of Microvascular Breast Reconstruction at St. Vincent's Medical Center of Hartford HealthCare. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Elizabeth Stirling Craig, MD: Sure, my name is Dr. Stirling Craig and I'm currently the Director of Microvascular Breast Reconstruction for the Hartford HealthCare System. My background is that I'm a plastic surgeon who did an extra year of fellowship in reconstruction using a technique called microsurgery, and I did that at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I was a faculty member there and then transitioned back up to Connecticut for this Director job. A lot of what I do is working with breast surgeons and treating breast cancer patients who have tested positive for a gene that might predispose them to breast cancer.

Oncology Data Advisor: What are some of the advanced techniques in breast cancer reconstruction and plastic surgery that you specialize in?

Dr. Stirling Craig: A lot of what I do is what we call tissue transfer. Most of the breast, at least in terms of overall texture, is pretty similar to fat that we can get from other places in our bodies. When a patient has a mastectomy where the entire breast is removed, we're always trying to find something similar to the breast tissue to then essentially replace that void or that hole where the breast tissue was removed. Your audience is probably very familiar with implants, and implants were one of the original ways we came up with to replace the breast tissue that's removed at the time of a mastectomy.

Then about 10 or 15 years ago, we came up with tissue transfer. A lot of women carry fat on the outside of their body, which is advantageous for people like me, because I can take away fat from areas that women don't want it and put it in areas where we need it, such as the breast. We do that by using a microscope to reconnect the blood vessels, so that's called microsurgery.

Oncology Data Advisor: In light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is there any information that you would like to share about plastic and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer?

Dr. Stirling Craig: I think it's wonderful to have a month where we can really bring attention to breast cancer as a whole. It's unfortunately a relatively common diagnosis when we're talking about cancer, in that it affects one in eight women. The great thing is that when caught early, it's very treatable and curable. The more education we can provide the public about getting mammograms and researching their family history to see if they may be predisposed to having one of these genetic carriers, that at a young age would predispose them to breast cancer, the better. It means that we can treat these cancers and the patients can go on to live their entire lifespan as they would have normally.

I think we all do better with understanding exactly all of the options that are at our fingertips, on the forefront or ahead of time, as opposed to after the fact.

In terms of reconstruction, since that's an area that I specialize in, some breast surgeons are very attuned and knowledgeable in regard to what options the patients may have, but I would always urge the patients to be advocates for themselves. Even if they're not interested in reconstruction because the diagnosis might be too overwhelming at that time, which is completely understandable, they can at least meet with a plastic surgeon and hear about what their options are. I do hear quite a bit of women who say, "It was too overwhelming at the time, I had small children, and I just wanted to get through the cancer. I wasn't aware of what various options there were." I think some women may sometimes have a little bit of regret in not having had that conversation. Not that it's something that they have to indulge in—they don't have to have reconstruction—but I think we all do better with understanding exactly all of the options that are at our fingertips, on the forefront or ahead of time, as opposed to after the fact.

Oncology Data Advisor: Great, thank you so much for your time today and for sharing this information.

About Dr. Stirling Craig

Elizabeth Stirling Craig, MD, is the Director of Microvascular Breast Reconstruction at St. Vincent's Medical Center of Hartford HealthCare, Connecticut. An expert in breast reconstruction, Dr. Stirling Craig specializes in advances techniques including deep inferior epigastric perforator and superior gluteal artery perforator flap reconstruction, oncoplastic lift reconstruction, and reduction after lumpectomy. She is one of the few plastic surgeons in the country with expertise in microsurgical procedures used for free flap reconstruction for patients with breast cancer and lymphedema.

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Transcript edited for clarity. Any views expressed above are the speaker's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Oncology Data Advisor. 


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