Dr. Jennifer Simmons has a very personal connection to breast cancer – a family member was diagnosed at only 29 years old, dying from the disease at 36. “Breast cancer was very much a part of my childhood and I understood at a very early age the impact that it has on a woman, her family, and the community as a whole. So fighting this disease really resonates with me.”
This breast surgeon fights cancer by placing a high importance on the specialization of her field. She feels that the time and focus required to keep pace with the continual developments in breast cancer require a dedication to this one area beyond what a general surgeon can provide. Dr. Simmons also believes that her job is comprised of 50% surgery and 50% emotional support for her patients and families. “As a breast surgeon, I talk people through the very hardest time in their lives,” she explained. “This creates lasting relationships that are almost always sustained. This field gives me the ability to play a role in someone’s life in which I can take them from their lowest place and into a place of wellness.”
The importance of cosmetic, as well as health, outcomes
As part of this guidance, Dr. Simmons does not believe cosmetic outcomes must always be sacrificed to ensure successful treatment of breast cancer. “The days of cutting out a tumor and sewing up the skin are long gone as far as I’m concerned,” the surgeon flatly stated. “I have always been a huge proponent of breast conservation, whether that means preserving the native breast or at least preserving the envelope and the nipple-areolar complex, because I want to keep people as whole as possible. It’s a lot easier for a patient to find a new normal when the breast is preserved as much as possible.”
The importance of MarginProbe in achieving both health and cosmetic wellness
The surgeon cited MarginProbe, a tool for determining clear margins during surgery, as extremely useful in preserving both health and cosmesis for her patients. Using this tool, she states her reexcision rate has been reduced from 22% to 12%.
Dr. Simmons highlighted the significance of such a reduction as she explained that while a surgery may take only 30 minutes to remove malignant tissue, cosmetic procedures such as reshaping the breast and performing a contralateral symmetry procedure may involve hours in the OR. “You don’t want to have to undo that,” she said. “Marginprobe has become an integral part of my practice because it’s another tool that helps ensure that I have all of the cancer out. I don’t want to go back in again because going back is emotionally devastating for the patient. This is another tool that helps me get it right the first time.”
Maximizing MarginProbe effectiveness
Dr. Simmons explained that she uses MarginProbe in almost every lumpectomy case, and uses the tool to aid in breast conservation in some cases where the “textbook” would indicate a mastectomy is needed. “MarginProbe delivers the ability in certain cases for women who were told that they had to have their breasts removed, to keep their breasts,” she said.
“I’m very clear with patients who have borderline lesions that if they go to any other place they would be told that they will need a mastectomy, but that I will try my best at breast conservation,” the physician continued. “And what that means is that if I can go in and remove the cancer, then the patient goes on for radiation. If it doesn’t work, I typically go back in three months and perform a nipple-sparing mastectomy. I use their skin and nipped to create an envelope to put in an implant, so it looks exactly like they had a breast reduction. So, in the event I can’t save the breast, I am still preserving the appearance of the breast.”
“If you’re a patient, and you have to deal with looking in the mirror every day and seeing the absence of a breast or a less-than-optimal breast reconstruction, it’s just another emotional trauma you must deal with,” the surgeon explained. “Putting in the effort on breast conservation provides a reminder that this disease doesn’t have to define them. And Marginprobe helps me maximize my conservation efforts. It is definitely something that has improved my skills, because anything that can cut down the number of times that I have to go back to the operating room really makes a difference.”
“I know this is my small contribution on my patients’ breast cancer journey, a journey that will be continually evolving starting the day they first receive their diagnosis,” the surgeon concluded. “But hopefully my contribution will help them find their way to a better place.”
Jennifer Simmons, MD, FACS
- Breast Surgeon, Chief of Breast Surgery and Director of the Breast Program at the Einstein Medical Center
- Former breast surgeon and Director of the Breast Program at Aria Health
- M.D. from Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Dune Medical.