Whangarei Hospital Breast Surgeon Awarded Prize at International Conference

Whangarei Hospital oncoplastic* reconstructive breast surgeon Dr Usha Shan has been awarded the prize for best oral presentation at a leading international breast surgery conference in Nottingham, England.

Dr Shan’s presentation focused on the ‘tennis racquet’ technique of breast conserving surgery, which allows cancer to be removed while minimising deformity of the breast.

Dr Shan, who is Whangarei Hospital’s solo oncoplastic surgeon for women with breast cancer since 2006, travelled overseas in 2008 to observe the technique, which she has since modified.

“Many women accept the impact of breast conservation surgery on their appearance because they think there’s no other option,” says Dr Shan. “All they want is the cancer out – they don’t complain, in fact they’re very grateful."

“But studies have shown that poor cosmetic results have a negative effect on the psyche of women – their self-esteem becomes lower.

“I decided I needed to do better for our Northland women.”

An abstract (summary paper) submitted by Dr Shan was one of 14 selected as oral presentations at the international ORBS (oncoplastic and reconstructive breast surgery) meeting in Nottingham in late September, which was attended by more than 400 delegates from 30 countries.

Her presentation, which included a video and a step-by-step guide to carrying out the surgery, went on to be chosen as the best at the event.

ORBS founder Dr Douglas MacMillan commented: “She showed that by using simple oncoplastic techniques, which she gradually refined, much better outcomes were achieved."

“The principle that surgeons with good technical skills can apply oncoplastic techniques to the benefit of women with breast cancer worldwide is one that the faculty felt best reflected the aims of the meeting.”

Also attending the event was the Danish surgeon who showed Dr Shan the tennis racquet technique in 2008, Dr Helle Hvid of Viborg Hospital, who wrote:I am impressed by how she has done more complex operations in her hospital and inspires me.

“She presented this ‘adventure’ scientifically in Nottingham with all her charm, personality and enthusiasm showing that it is possible to implement new operating methods although working as a solo oncoplastic breast surgeon in a rural area.

“I believe she hit us all in the heart.”

Professor Dixon (OBE), Breast Surgery and Consultant Surgeon, Breast Cancer Now Research Group added; “I think you won because your talk was clinically relevant and you showed how with modification of your technique – using a racquet incision and re-centralising the NAC – you were able to improve your results significantly.”

“Importantly you changed your practice, alone, and you improved your results. That showed insight, resourcefulness, and commitment to your patients.”

Dr Shan is now expecting to present on the technique at a conference in New Zealand, and will hold workshops at Whangarei Hospital if there is demand from surgeons elsewhere in the country.

“I want to encourage other surgeons in the country to use this technique because it’s simple, safe, effective and gives a better cosmetic outcome,” she says.

Next year, her vision to create an oncoplastic unit in Whangarei Hospital will take a step forward with the planned recruitment of two additional oncoplastic surgeons to join her.

In the meantime, she has convened a symposium on breast cancer management to be held in Whangarei at the end of the month [subs note: October 30]. The symposium has attracted 120 delegates from as far away as Christchurch and Auckland.

The morning session features medical and surgical experts from around the country – including a repeat of Dr Shan’s ORBS presentation. The afternoon will be dedicated to the support services who help patients feel good with appearance, along with a patient talking about her journey, and a modelling session by breast cancer survivors.

*Oncoplastic breast conservation surgery combines oncologic (cancer treatment) principles with plastic surgical techniques

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