Breast cancer survivors face countless challenges through the course of treatment for their disease. One of those, which has consequences that are more emotional than physical, is the selection of a breast prosthesis following a mastectomy. Post-mastectomy patients want a breast form with the look, fit, and comfort of a natural breast.
Following a decade of research and testing, ContourMedģ, a medical technology company in Little Rock, Arkansas, began in July 2001, producing a custom-made prosthesis that is more lifelike and lighter weight than other breast forms available.
L. Daniel Eaton, a board-certified ocularist with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Little Rock, specializes in creating lifelike facial prostheses for individuals who cannot benefit from reconstructive surgery. He invented the technology for ContourMed's custom-fitted, lightweight breast prostheses after working with a facial restoration patient who also was a breast cancer survivor. Eaton's patient asked why the technology used in facial prosthetics couldn't also be used to make more lifelike breast prostheses. She explained that the breast forms available at the time were heavy, hot, and uncomfortable.
"Our initial research started with cancer survivors and is really what makes ContourMed unique," Eaton said. "The company continues to listen to these women for further product development."
The anatomically accurate breast prostheses are created using ContourMed's patented technology, which was developed at the Arkansas Cancer Research Center at UAMS.
Technicians obtain a CAD-based, 3-D laser scan of the patient's intact breast, as well as the chest wall, to create each custom-fitted prosthesis.
The scanning technology captures the exact shape, slope, and contour of the patient's chest anatomy. Because women are custom-fitted, the back of the prosthesis is crafted to reflect every unique detail of the chest wall, and women are able to wear their bra of choice.
Benefits O&P Facility
"We recently started offering a wide range of mastectomy products and accessories in our Mastectomy Division, but we were missing one component: a custom, lightweight breast form," said Rick Fleetwood, general manager, Snell Prosthetic and Orthotic Laboratory, Little Rock. "With the ContourMed product, we are able to offer breast cancer survivors the most advanced prosthetic technology available."
According to Fleetwood, many O&P providers had shied away from offering custom breast prostheses in the past, due to the traditional time-consuming plaster-casting technique.
"With plaster casting, the drain on manpower, time, and resources makes it difficult to see a sound ROI [Return on Investment]," said Fleetwood. "With Contour-Med's technological capabilities, you can scan ten times as many customers in the time it takes to do just one with the old-fashioned casting method--now with even greater accuracy."
Technology Earns Design Award
Survivor input also led to the development of the ContourMed Advantage technology, which uses a combination of magnets and adhesives to give survivors a natural and secure breast form that attaches directly to the chest wall. ContourMed Advantage magnets are nickel-plated for safe, direct skin contact, and the adhesive discs use 3M" hypoallergenic adhesive tape. The ContourMed Advantage was awarded a 2003 Medical Design Excellence Award, the global awards program devoted to recognizing contributions and advancements in medical devices.
"Heavier products that require a special bra can be very uncomfortable for women with scar tissue on their chest wall. It's almost like wearing a pair of shoes that are too tight," said Larita Irvin, a breast cancer survivor and retired mail carrier from Texas. "I can wear the ContourMed Advantage all day in complete comfort."
Irvin says, in addition to the comfort, she likes the confidence of wearing this prosthesis. "Everyone likes to look nice. I'm very confident when I wear the ContourMed prosthesis. It doesn't separate from your body when you lean forward like many other products do."
Most private insurance companies cover 80 to 100 percent of the suggested retail price of $3,000 to $3,600. For women with private insurance, the average out-of-pocket expense is around $300.
"Offering the ContourMed custom product has been the best thing that has happened to me as a storeowner," said Krista Clark of Essential Accents, Nashville, Tennessee. "First, there is no inventory cost. And because the profit margin is considerably more than the others, I had the most profitable month in the history of my business following my last scanning event with ContourMed."
Clark says the appeal of offering a custom product helped pull a considerable number of customers from areas outside her immediate service area. "I had women who live an hour and half away come in to be scanned," she added.
Each prosthesis is made in the United States and handcrafted by ContourMed technicians. ContourMed researchers have developed 16 skin tone options and various nipple designs to help women return to their natural look.
For more information about ContourMed, call 888.301.0520 or visit†www.contourmed.com†
Mimi San Pedro is president of ContourMed. A four-year breast cancer survivor, San Pedro left behind an 18-year career as an advertising industry executive to make a fresh start in a career that is both challenging and personally rewarding. The national Susan G. Komen Foundation, SELF magazine, and Yoplait recently selected her as one of the "Yoplait 25 Champions."