PHOTO: Breast cancer survivor Bobbi Rafaloff of Marlboro with surgeon Stephen A. Chagares, M.D., with the PicoWay™laser Dr. Chagares is using to safely and quickly remove the small black or blue dots known as radiation tattoos.
LONG BRANCH, N.J. – On the journey to conquering breast cancer, women are left with reminders. Some may be empowering, while others may not.
For breast cancer survivor Bobbi Rafaloff of Marlboro, five small black dots known as radiation tattoos that were left behind following the radiation treatment she underwent 22 years ago are an unwelcome reminder of her course of treatment. So on May 25, Bobbi turned to a new tattoo-removal program led by Stephen A. Chagares, M.D., a board-certified surgeon who specializes in breast surgery and is a part of the multidisciplinary team of Monmouth Medical Center’s Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center.
Dr. Chagares has treated many breast cancer patients over his more than 20-year career and understands the importance of supporting patients as they move forward with their lives. Through a new program utilizing a PicoWay™laser, he can safely and quickly remove the small black or blue dots, known as radiation tattoos, that are left as permanent reminders of the radiation treatment.
Partnering with Monmouth Medical Center plastic and reconstruction surgeon Andrew Elkwood, M.D., and the physicians of the Plastic Surgery Center in Shrewsbury, who are donating the use of their practice’s laser, Dr. Chagares, who is donating his time, uses ultra-short laser pulses to break the tattoo pigment into tiny particles for the body to remove naturally.
“We feel this is a nice thing to do for the community,” says Dr. Chagares, who says the program is available to anyone, regardless of who performed their surgery or radiation therapy, and that it was created for breast cancer patients but is also open to any cancer survivors seeking removal of radiation tattoos. “It is our way of giving back to the community and we see it as a gift to individuals who have been through a lot.”
Noting that he finds that some cancer survivors like their small blue or black dots – as they see them as battle scars signifying they won their fight with cancer – he says there are others for whom they are an unwelcome visual reminder.
Bobbi, who had a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation at Monmouth Medical Center in 1995, underwent genetic counseling seven years later and discovered that she was a BRCA1 carrier, meaning she was genetically linked to a higher breast cancer risk. At that time, she opted for the most common risk-reducing surgery, bilateral prophylactic mastectomy, also called bilateral risk-reducing mastectomy, and breast reconstruction. She now is the physician liaison for Dr. Elkwood, and runs a support group for his patients who are undergoing breast reconstruction following mastectomy.
“A lot of women, me included, feel like they can’t wear certain necklines or bathing suits because the radiation dots are so visible,” she said. “This new tattoo-removal program is such a welcome service for those of us who want to be rid of these visual reminders of our treatment.”
Removal typically takes three sessions, and each session is spaced eight weeks apart, explains Dr. Chagares, who adds that the typical breast cancer patient who has undergone radiation treatment will have between four and six of the radiation marks.