VANCOUVER -- A surgeon in Clark County is making headlines using Botox injections not for cosmetic purposes, but to ease muscle pain for cancer survivors after their breasts are removed.
They'd [medical professionals would ask] say, 'On a scale of one to ten?' I'd said, 'I'm a zero.' Then they'd say, 'You're kidding?' and I'd say, 'Nope, I'm not, I'm just completely comfortable,' said Chris Durst, 58, a breast cancer survivor.
Durst talked a lot about her low level of pain after her second go-around with reconstructive surgery. It was big change from two years prior.
Her breast was removed and at first, her body didn't heal correctly. I felt overwhelmed; completely overwhelmed. I think of myself as a pretty centered person and I just felt like I had so many decisions to make so fast, said Durst.
She researched and found Doctor Allen Gabriel.
Gabriel and his team at Southwest Medical Group in Vancouver have been using Botox injections on patients to ease the pain of breast implants after a patient has a mastectomy.
I tell people if I had known that it would have been this easy for me, I would have done it sooner, said Durst.
You would hear about how patients were unhappy with their expanders; how painful and they couldn't wait to have them removed, said Doctor Gabriel.
As part of the procedure, reconstructive surgeons put expanders into the chest area right after a woman's breasts are removed to help reshape and prepare it for the breast implant while the mastectomy skin heals, Doctor Gabriel said.
Doctor Gabriel said he started hearing complaints from patients that the expanders were causing severe chest pain as they pushed against muscles in the chest. It was a pain patients described as like a charlie horse, he said.
As you're pressing against a very thick muscle that's very active on a daily basis, that's when the pain and discomfort occurs, said Doctor Gabriel. He started looking into Botox injections to ease the pain.
It worked. In a clinical trial of 30 women getting mastectomies with breast reconstruction, Doctor Gabriel divided patients into two groups.
One group received Botox injections in the chest muscle and the other received saline solution injections as a placebo. The group to receive the Botox injections, reported that they were more comfortable, and had much less pain after surgery than those who received placebo, said Doctor Gabriel.
It's been very exciting to see something that we read online; thought that it was a problem and now we have a solution, said Doctor Gabriel.
As you might imagine, Botox injections are not cheap but because of a grant through Southwest Medical Group, if Doctor Gabriel does a Botox injection for reconstruction purposes, the injections are free for the patients.
We're very fortunate at Southwest Washington Health System is sponsoring this study so they're covering the cost of all the Botox that is injected, he said.
Doctor Gabriel said his breast cancer patients are now requesting the injections. It is important for us to remember, unfortunately we are taking away part of their femininity; that's how people look at it and [so we need to] do everything we can to support what's going to make them [the patient] happy, said Doctor Gabriel.
And that has made the process easier for patients like Chris Durst, too.
It was important to me to move forward and for me that was what felt like moving forward; that I'd taken care of the cancer and done what I'd needed to do to get my life back on track, she said.