NorthShore University HealthSystem's Evanston Hospital.

Surgery can be frightening. There’s worry about the outcome, and worry about the pain.

However, in cases of life or death, there’s little alternative.

But why, then, would someone who is perfectly healthy undergo surgery now, in the hope of preventing illness 20, 30,or perhaps even 40 years in the future?

Katherine Kopkash.

Dr. Katherine Kopkash, a physician at NorthShore Univesity HealthSystem’s Evanston Hospital, knows the reason.

Some women with a high risk of breast cancer choose surgery while healthy, trying to avoid a potentially life-threating illness as they get older.

“We’ve seen an increase in people having prophylactic surgery,” Kopkash says.

And so Kopkash is the lead investigator for a clinical trial now underway at Evanston Hospital for a procedure known as “robotic assisted nipple sparing mastectomy, with implant reconstruction.”

And it’s only for women who are now healthy but have breast cancer predisposition, such as those with the BRCA gene mutation or other factors which, in some cases, show a 50-60% risk of getting breast cancer in the future.

“It’s a big decision” to have surgery while not currently ill, Kopkash says.

“When people come to see me, they’ve been thinking about it for a long time.”

Breast cancer surgery has, in many cases, moved away from the complete breast removal (radical mastectomy) of decades past.

But even less drastic procdures could still, Kopkash says, cause “lifelong deformity,” an emotional scar along with the physical one.

Kopkash notes that her interest in a less cosmetically drastic form of breast cancer surgery began in residency.

“I thought that my patients could have better outcomes,” she says.

As you can tell by the name, the procedure being evaluated uses robotic surgery, which often has a less painful recovery.

The surgical incision is about four times smaller than in other breast cancer procedures, and the nipple is spared, which, along with the breast reconstruction, Kopkash notes, can be critical for a patient’s self-image.

This new type of surgery is already being done in Europe, where, Kopkash says, studies show that “people are very happy with the outcome.”

The trials at Evanston Hospital, Kopkash says, are “the first use of the robotic platform” for such surgery in the U.S., which makes it a “groundbreaking” procedure domestically.

NorthShore is among only five hospital chains nationwide taking part in these trials.

The others are the Mayo Clinic, M.D. Anderson in Houston, the University of Pennsylvania, and Northwell Health in upstate New York.

The goal is to enroll 145 total participants among the several hospitals. A few in Evanston have already undergone the procedure as part of the trials, but there is room for more in the study.

Those with questions can call 847-570-1108.

Kopkash says her goal is to have a procedure which makes the patient “feel comfortable and beautiful after surgery.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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