Surgeon creates new post-surgery bra for breast cancer patients
FORT MYERS, Fla., USA: Women who undergo mastectomies, biopsies or lumpectomy surgeries wear special bras after surgery to decrease swelling and promote healing. In response to her patients describing these bras as scratchy, uncomfortable and restrictive, Dr. Lea Blackwell, a breast surgeon at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, felt compelled to create a more practical and comfortable bra in her spare time.
Ilona Martin was the first patient to try out the bra. When she learned in 2013 that she had breast cancer for the third time, the fiercely independent 61-year-old feared that a double mastectomy would place a burden on her family. She knew from her first bout of breast cancer in 2001 that the bra she had received after surgery made it difficult to move.
"The old bra is so compressed and tight, I could barely move my arms. At times, it took two people to close it. I felt really helpless with that thing," said Martin. "Dr. Blackwell's bra is useful and comfortable, plus it's cut lower under the armpit so it doesn't interfere with the incision from lymph node surgery. It allows you to start physical therapy earlier since it doesn't cut into it your arms. It's not as restrictive and it really gives you your independence back."
"Postoperative compression surgical bras are necessary to support the breast tissue after surgery, but they should be comfortable and functional too," remarked Blackwell. "The bra I've designed provides the support needed, decreases bruising and fluid collection, and provides patients less pain after their breast surgery."
Blackwell has been working with a local seamstress to create her new bras, which have been in increasing demand. After receiving a U.S. patent for the bra in July, Blackwell is hoping to provide the bra to more breast cancer patients after mastectomies.
"I was delighted to be successful at navigating through the patent process and getting a patent issued for the postoperative compression bra," said Blackwell. "If this bra could potentially make life better for women after surgery, then I've accomplished my goal."
The new bra is specifically designed for comfort. The old bra uses Velcro, which can cause discomfort and irritation to people with sensitive skin. It also has a seam down the front that crosses the surgical scar, which may further irritate the skin.
Unlike other options, Blackwell's bra uses adjustable clips similar to those used on a life jacket or a stroller. It also has mesh pockets for accommodating the post-surgery drain instead of clipping the drain to clothing.
Blackwell specializes in breast cancer treatment at Associates in General and Vascular Surgery, a division of 21st Century Oncology. She earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University in 2002 and completed a surgical breast oncology fellowship at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington.