SINGAPORE: A pioneering treatment is being used in the UK to repair the post-surgical disfigurement caused by removing cancerous tumours in the head or neck.
The technique involves injecting fat taken from the abdomen into the disfigured areas - similar to the fat transfer that surgeons use to reconstruct breast tissue after a mastectomy.
Fat is used as it is rich in stem cells. They can transform into skin cells to replace the damaged ones and plump up the skin, reported a Daily Mail article on Feb 17.
The process begins with a local anaesthetic administered to the abdomen or thigh. About 120ml of fat is then extracted with a syringe. Water and blood are separated from the extract before the purified fat is injected into the neck or face.
Head and neck cancers can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), heavy drinking and smoking. Of the top 10 cancers affecting Singaporeans, head and neck cancers rank ninth in men, according to the National Cancer Centre Singapore, which did not include them in the top-10 list for women.
While the incidence is not high in Singapore, the after-treatment effects for head and neck cancers - including tumours in the throat, lip, tongue and nasal cavity - can be debilitating. The surgery and radiotherapy used to treat the cancers can leave the face hollowed and scarred.
"We are seeing a significant number of younger patients with head and neck cancer, and they are acutely aware of how they look following treatment,’ said Luke Cascarini, an oral and maxillofacial head and neck consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’s National Health Service Trust in London.
The fat jabs are being carried out by William Townley, a plastics and reconstructive surgeon at the trust, who has treated around 50 patients, according to the Daily Mail article.
"We are replacing missing tissue taken away as part of the cancer and aiming to give more body back to the face and jaw," said Townley.