The history of the Clinic Helena started exactly twenty years ago when Dr. Helena Puonti, a microsurgeon and breast oncologist founded a private clinic in Savonlinna to focus on women residing in Eastern Finland. In just two decades the clinic has grown from a small medical center to a leading private provider of health and medical services for women in Finland offering mammology, gynecology and fertility treatment as well as oncologic and plastic surgeries. Following the national recognition (in 2002, Helena Puonti was named “Oncologist of the Year” in Finland), the clinic established a reputation on the international market: nowadays, half of the clinic’s patients come from abroad.
The clinic focuses on the full-cycle treatment of breast cancer, the most frequent cancer among women around the world. Dr. Helena Puonti, who decided to become a doctor back when she was a child, decided to focus on oncology and mammology already at the very start of her medical career.
Dr. Puonti recalls, “after getting a medical degree, I was working in general surgery where I often came across various breast tumors. Of course, back then medicine was not the same as now, and patients would die of cancer more often. I felt this was a challenge for me: soon I wanted to work specifically with breast cancer to improve treatment methods and help more patients recover. Later, along with advancements in medicine and better treatment outcomes, I wanted to help my patients not only recover physically but also restore their breast shape. ”
In Finland, breast cancer treatment results are at an exceptionally high level on a global scale: five-year survival rate for breast cancer in Finland is as high as 92% with the ten-year survival rate being 86%. No less important is the commitment of Finnish doctors to more “gentle” treatment methods: in Finland mastectomy and removal of axillary lymph nodes is performed much less often compared to many other countries. In addition, it is typical to use high-precision radioisotope tracers to examine the lymph nodes during the surgery, which in many cases allows to preserve the axillary lymph nodes and thus reduce the likelihood of hand lymphostasis. The accuracy of this method is 97%, while the accuracy of blue dye lymphatic mapping which is a more standard procedure is only around 60%.
From survival to quality of life
What remains beyond the pallid statistics of survival rate (oncologic statistics does not consider “recovery”) is the quality of life and aesthetics, yet they are of great importance to patients. At the same time, surgery remains the main method of breast cancer treatments: most women diagnosed with breast cancer face it. Unlike other countries, in Finland future aesthetics is considered already when planning the treatment so that even when a breast-conserving surgery is not possible, a further breast reconstruction can always be planned.
Clinic Helena is especially proud to offer its patients an innovative method of breast reconstruction developed by Dr. Puonti using microneurovascular MS-TRAM flap (Muscle-Sparing Transverse Rectus Abdominis Myocutaneous flap). Such reconstruction allows not only to restore the shape of the breast but also makes it possible bring back skin sensitivity to it. This is very important for patients to return to a full life after undergoing a breast cancer treatment.
Early diagnostics is the path to recovery
Unfortunately, at the moment it is not possible to prevent breast cancer. It is neither a matter of having many children or having none, nor a genetic factor: genetic dependence is observed only in 5% of cases, while the remaining 95% are sporadic, i.e. random. Helena Puonti strongly recommends that every woman throughout her life pay attention to any changes in her breast: any signs of lumps, pits and bulges or a nipple discharge is a good reason to make an appointment with a mammologist. A monthly breast self-exam should become a routine for every woman, just as regular visits to the dentist and gynecologist. While such self-exam takes less time than nail care, its importance cannot be overestimated. For women older than 40 y.o., a regular mammogram is added to self-exam: these two methods can detect cancer at an early stage, which means they increase the chances of recovery.
At the slightest suspicion, it is necessary to visit a qualified specialist as soon as possible. Then, an ultrasound scan (U/S) or a mammogram is performed, and if suspicions are confirmed, a biopsy of the alleged tumor is performed and the oncologist prescribes treatment based on its results. In Finland, it is usual to explain to the patient the entire treatment plan and answer all their questions. This approach allows a patient to understand the logics behind the appointments, to realize the changes awaiting for them and get ready for them.
As Dr. Helena Puonti notes, patients from different countries when have the same feelings when facing a serious diagnosis, ranging from horror and denial to acceptance, yet some foreign patients are more likely to feel some awkwardness when discussing with doctors sensitive issues regarding their health. However, doctors at Clinic Helena are top professionals whose ethics allows patients to discuss most sensitive matters without embarrassment. And it is always recommended to try to avoid panic, although it is a natural human reaction: with state-of-the-art methods of breast cancer treatment, nowadays patients have good chances for a full recovery.