Artec Eva and Artec Space Spider help restore confidence in breast cancer survivors

At the end of 2020, 7.8 million women had been diagnosed with breast cancer over the previous five years, making it the most prevalent cancer globally. The disease strikes women at any age, and in every country around the world. Amid the loss and pain, there are also tales of survival, courage, and inspiration. Being diagnosed with the disease and fighting it is traumatic enough, and being a breast cancer survivor brings new concerns, such as learning to live with a new version of self.

Breast reconstruction after mastectomy often means yet another surgery, so more and more women are turning to a breast prosthesis

Having a mastectomy, a surgical removal of one or both breasts, gives the best chance of a positive outcome. But the emotional toll it imposes is certainly not to be taken lightly. For many women, the loss of one or both breasts to cancer can cause feelings of hopelessness, body incompleteness, social inconvenience, a lack of confidence, and a loss of sensuality.

A growing number of women are choosing to wear prosthetics rather than to have reconstructive surgery after mastectomy. This implies having to take care of creating the prosthesis before the surgery – having an uncomfortable, slowly deteriorating or simply dysfunctional breast prosthesis is nothing but adding insult to injury.

Precursor to medical breakthrough

During the pandemic lockdown, one French prosthetist fulfilled his lifelong ambition: he created a personalized breast prosthesis that fully addressed the aforementioned needs and concerns. In France, there are 20,000 women every year who need one, and the choice they have is limited to industrial options of two sizes, and two skin tones – neither of which caters to black and brown women of color. Julien Montenero has always seen it as his mission to put people back in the center of the healthcare industry, so he started looking for innovative and efficient methods to help. Montenero first came up with the idea of helping post-mastectomy patients 17 years ago, but it was only last year when he identified 3D technology as the best solution.

After 17 years of dreaming to help post-mastectomy patients, Julien Montenero found his solution: 3D technology

Montenero’s career began back in 2004 when he arrived in Paris as a dental prosthetist, and founded Atelier J’m, a laboratory that helps people who need physical reconstruction. In the following years, Montenero worked with patients who had suffered the effects of accidents, terrorist attacks, and wars, as well as those diagnosed with cancer or different congenital conditions. His fierce and independent spirit, along with a strong commitment to help, make it no surprise that Montenero is also involved with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), an international humanitarian NGO providing medical care in conflict-affected zones. As part of one the projects with MSF, for example, Montenero traveled to Jordan, where he helped create maxillofacial prostheses.

Discovering 3D scanning for bespoke, transformative prosthetics

Like any visionary, this prosthetist always keeps his ear to the ground when it comes to news on the latest technology that could possibly be implemented in his work. So when a TV report about an archaeology project in Egypt using Artec 3D scanners aired, it instantly sparked his interest. Montenero was thrilled with the technology’s precision, and couldn’t wait to put it to the test. After a couple of trial projects, for which he rented a 3D scanner, he became one of the very first professionals to use 3D scanning for medical applications. Feeling he was ready to invest in complete freedom and high quality only this technology could bring, Montenero got in touch with Boreal, an Artec 3D Gold-Certified partner, whose experts introduced him to Artec Eva and Artec Space Spider. These handheld 3D scanners became the long-awaited solution for creating lightweight, custom-fit prostheses.

Florian Goussu, Sales Technician at Boreal, explained, “With the use of 3D technologies in reconstructive surgery, epithetists now have a range of digital tools such as Artec 3D scanners that allow them to quickly and efficiently duplicate limbs or organs. These operations give patients the courage and strength to face the world around them.”

Creating bespoke prosthetics with the fullest understanding of the patient’s individual anatomy has become far more efficient with 3D technology

Each of the two scanners has already proven irreplaceable in today’s healthcare industry. Creating customized prosthetics with the fullest understanding of the patient’s individual anatomy has become much faster and more professional since Artec Eva and Artec Space Spider entered the scene. Artec Studio 3D scanning and processing software easily makes up for the small movements a patient can make when scanning, and helps convert 3D data into a superb anatomical 3D model.

More and more medical companies are putting high hopes in 3D scanning for prosthetics. Seen as the next revolution in medicine, 3D devices bring the next-gen practices and technologies to underprivileged families, those who suffered in conflict, or – in the case of Montenero’s patients – cancer survivors. One such device is Artec Eva, an industry-standard portable scanner, based on a structured-light scanning technology. It is widely used around the world for capturing body parts, helping create stunningly accurate, textured scans. Whenever you need to scan the human body, there is nothing like the light, safe Eva, now empowered with HD Mode.

In the event that medical professionals need to render elaborate details, Artec Space Spider is often called upon. This 3D scanner produces high-precision results when scanning small objects with intricate geometry. Space Spider is even used to predict surgery scenarios to make sure everything goes smoothly in situations when there’s no room for human error.

“From the start, we have been looking for new processes, innovative materials from cutting-edge technologies,” Montenero stated on his website. “We develop sustainable techniques for the comfort and well-being of our patients.”

Work in progress, step by step

Montenero’s usual workflow with Artec scanners involves scanning a breast before the mastectomy, processing the 3D scan data to prepare a 3D model, and 3D printing a mold. From the mold, a prototype is created with the use of special medical silicone (unlike a traditional silicone gel, this medical version feels flexible and organic against the human skin). After the mastectomy, the patient can use this prototype while waiting for the final prosthesis to be designed, with the nipple (or freckles and birthmarks if needed) made to match the second breast.

With Artec scanners, Montenero needs less than eight seconds to scan a breast, causing no stress or discomfort

“The goal is to reach the same density as the other breast, to avoid any discomfort and imbalance. We have a technical, technological approach thanks to Artec 3D scanners, and, the most important is the human part,” Montenero explained.

During the traditional process of creating a prosthetics appliance, the patient needs to be immobilized for at least eight minutes for taking the mold and waiting for the paste or compound to harden. Most patients refer to this as a very long procedure, and one that causes a lot of stress and discomfort. With Artec scanners, Montenero needs less than eight seconds.

And Montenero goes through all the hoops with the patient. Not being a doctor himself, he nevertheless deals with the women directly throughout all stages – from making arrangements to healing – which softens the traumatic experience.

Changing role of a breast prosthesis

The final result is overwhelming: a light, comfortable breast prosthesis perfectly fitting the unique morphology of the woman, with no gaps or pressure points. A recovered silhouette is often a starting point for recovered confidence, something to support a cancer survivor through the demanding reconstruction stage.

The final result is a light, perfectly fitting breast prosthesis, including the nipple, and any freckles or birthmarks

Atelier J’m keeps gathering pace; a pioneer of using 3D technologies in prosthetics since 2010, Montenero continues fundraising for innovative projects and seeking new partnerships and alliances. He hopes to recruit four more employees next year, and grow his team to 10 in 2023.

And Artec scanners have turned out to be a decision that Montenero has never regretted – the scanning process offers a high level of detail that was once unattainable, and he’s managed to make the process faster than ever. In a situation this delicate, speed and precision are more crucial than ever. On top of that, the patient needs to trust the professional with recreating a body part they are about to lose – and that trust is something he works hard to gain, and to maintain.

“I am delighted with the solutions offered by Artec 3D, which help me a lot to develop and make great progress in taking measurements”, the prosthetist said. “Today, 3D scans are obvious in medicine to reproduce, not just create. It’s a chance to formalize and use current technologies to help people regain what they’ve lost.”

Supporting a community of cancer fighters

Reaching out to other spheres and sectors is one more benefit brought by 3D scanning. The history of external breast prosthetics spans 40 years, while all the leaps forward could be counted on one hand. Prosthesis has been seen as a means to replace the missing breast, with comfort and aesthetics often neglected. Montenero is one who finally changed this with the help of 3D technology, and he is ready to share his experience.

Although a mastectomy for breast cancer cannot help but change the way thousands of women feel about themselves and their bodies, the bottom line is that these women deserve respect and admiration, an essential factor that fully translates into Montenero’s work.

The loss of a positive self-image and being confronted with an entirely new set of challenges is like collapsing right before the finish in this horrific marathon known as cancer. This is exactly why Montenero and the solution he has introduced are vital: they cheer breast cancer survivors on towards the finish line, not letting anything tarnish their hard-fought victory.