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HealthWatch: Breast Cancer And Stem Cells

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- British researchers are using stem cells to help women who have had mastectomies regrow their own breast tissue, Dr. Max Gomez reports.

"You're talking about a significant advance both surgically and also psychologically to help these women as well," said Dr. Jennifer Ashton, CBS News Medical Correspondent.

Surgeons insert a plastic mold under the skin where the breast has been removed then inject it with stem cells and fat taken from other parts of the body. Researchers said new fat cells, not actual breast tissue, start to grow within six months to a year.

Doctors at St. George's Hospital in London are calling the results "very impressive." They've successfully treated several patients in the past few months.

Patients said the results look better and feel more comfortable than implants. Reconstructive surgeons, however, caution this technique is still experimental.

"The biggest concern is that they don't want to stimulate the growth of a cancer. The growth factors that are used to help stimulate those  stem cells and fat cells to grow and take the form of the human breast, potentially could also stimulate cancer cells," said Dr. Ashton.

Doctors said they won't use the technique on women until they've been cancer-free for at least a year in case the stem cells trigger the growth of  new tumors.

Research is ongoing in multiple countries including the United States but the FDA has not yet approved the technique.

After the fat cells have grown, a second surgical procedure is needed to remove the plastic mold that contained the cells and held the growing breast in shape.

Researchers are working on a kind of biodegradable scaffolding that would dissolve once the implanted cells have grown.

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