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Suzanne Foster, general manager of Medtronic Advanced Energy in Portsmouth, talks about the technology behind her company's PlasmaBlades, which enable surgeons to save the nipples of women who undergo mastectomies. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT))

PlasmaBlade improves surgery outcome for cancer patients

PORTSMOUTH — A company in Portsmouth is promoting a PlasmaBlade that makes it easier for surgeons to save the nipples of women who undergo mastectomies after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The patented technology uses brief pulses of radiofrequency, which produces less thermal damage to tissue when compared to traditional electrosurgery. Surgeons performing mastectomies at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, Exeter Hospital and Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, are using PlasmaBlades. The technology is not yet available at hospitals on the Seacoast.

Suzanne Foster, general manager of Medtronic Advanced Energy on International Drive in Portsmouth, had a double mastectomy using the PlasmaBlades her company makes at their facility in Fort Worth, Texas. Their 60-person team produces around 250,000 PlasmaBlades per year.

Foster shared her story about being diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I couldn’t speak when (the doctor) first came in the room. I went silent and thought, ‘I exercise, I have no history of cancer anywhere in my family. I’m healthy, I have always eaten well. He must be wrong,’” Foster said.

“Once it sunk in that he was probably right, the thought was what could be worse than this? And the only thing that came to mind was, well, the only thing that could possibly be worse than this is someone telling me one of my two kids had some diagnosis like this. And I thought, so if it’s going to be anyone, it should be me, and not them.”

Foster ended up having a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy. She said when the surgeon was first removing her bandages two days after the surgery and asked her to look down, she couldn’t. When she finally mustered up the courage, she realized her breasts looked like they did prior to surgery.

“And I thought, I am going to be OK,” Foster said.

Dr. Lana Shikhman, who started using the PlasmaBlade when she began working at Elliot Hospital 2 1/2 years ago, says she has used the technology for 35 nipple-sparing procedures.

“It’s become a great option for patients,” Shikham said. She explained that for many women, they lose a sense of sexuality after a traditional mastectomy because their nipple is removed.

Shikhman said one in four women needing a mastectomy qualify for a nipple-sparing procedure. Factors surgeons must take into consideration include how large the breast is and how far away from the nipple the tumor is.

Medtronic employs 80,000 people globally and about 300 people in Portsmouth.

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