Every year, many breast cancer patients from Finland and other countries make their way to the picturesque town of Savonlinna in eastern Finland – home of Clinic Helena, one of Finland’s leading private providers of health and medical services for women. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Helena Puonti, an award-winning microsurgeon and oncologist, the clinic offers world-class diagnostics and treatment, specializing in breast cancer, oncoplastic techniques and breast reconstructions after recovery. Cytostatic and radiation therapy can also be arranged by the clinic.
Puonti has dedicated her working life to the development of surgical breast cancer treatment, pioneering several techniques for microneurovascular breast reconstruction using the patient’s own tissue. In 2017, her many years of research was published as a PhD thesis on a state-of-the-art surgical technique that can restore partial or even full sensation to a reconstructed breast following surgery.
“We provide comprehensive treatment for breast cancer and always think about the future life of the patient, saving as much of the original breast whenever possible. This is not a problem with smaller tumors but even after the removal of bigger tumors we can return the shape of the operated breast by using local flap transfers,” Puonti explains.
Implants, tissue expanders and fat transfer are an option for slim patients who don’t have enough tissue of their own. In cases where the whole breast needs to be removed, Puonti prepares for future reconstructive surgery by saving as much skin as possible. She can also put a tissue expander under the skin, so that the patient does not need to be without a breast while waiting for the next stage of the treatment.
Restoring sensation with advanced microsurgery
Breast reconstruction surgery is performed at Clinic Helena after the patient has fully recovered from 1-3 years of postoperative therapy. Thanks to Puonti’s advanced microsurgery techniques, it is now possible to connect blood vessels and nerves to the new breast, and even to restore lymphatic channels. In many cases, Puonti can bring sensation to the new breast skin by sewing nerves from the abdominal cavity wall to the nerve fibre of the breast.
“The final breast reconstruction is always a happy event for a patient after the shock and worry connected to the cancer diagnosis and treatment,” she says. “Returning the shape of a breast and, whenever possible, its natural sensation, is often the moment when a patient feels that the cancer has finally been dealt with, and she can get her life back. It has a major impact on her quality of life.”
A breast made with the patient’s own tissue is very different from a silicone breast because it has blood flow and sensation, and reacts naturally to the changing weight of the patient.
Comprehensive care for women
In addition to oncological diagnosis, treatment and postoperative therapy, Clinic Helena also offers reconstructive surgery and plastic surgery as well as treatment for gynaecological problems, inflammations and hormonal imbalances, infertility treatment and urogynaecological surgery. The clinic also provides a service for international patients with other health issues, guiding them to the appropriate specialist medical providers in Finland.
About half of Clinic Helena’s patients currently come from outside Finland, especially from Russia. Many patients make contact with the clinic after word-of-mouth recommendations by family members or friends.
“More international patients are discovering Finland because we have the best results for cancer treatment globally, which demonstrates the quality of our care. At Clinic Helena our goal is always to provide the same quality of life for patients as before the disease,” says Puonti.