Dr. Hani Sbitany is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at UCSF. He works primarily with breast cancer patients who seek breast reconstruction after a single or double mastectomy. Nationwide the majority of breast cancer patients who reconstruct choose implants.
Sbitany performs many implant-based surgeries, but he also specializes in more advanced reconstructive surgeries called autologous or microsurgical tissue-transfers. In these procedures, plastic surgeons take tissue from a fleshy part of a woman’s body, usually the lower abdomen, and move it onto the chest to make a new breast.
Compared to implant-based reconstruction, tissue-transfers are more technically demanding for the surgeon and involve a longer recovery time for the patient. For the woman, the healing time is extended because she has two surgical sites (the chest and the belly) instead of one. For the surgeon, the operation is arduous because transferring tissue from one part of the body to another is complex and delicate work.
Why did you decide to specialize in reconstructive surgery?
Of all the plastic surgery subspecialties, I liked that reconstructive microsurgery involved learning how to operate on all parts of the body, which meant endless challenges and variety. I also enjoy the collaborative aspects of reconstructive surgery. Instead of working in isolation, I work in tandem with physicians in all the other specialties to ensure the best possible outcome for women.
How long have you been working with breast cancer patients?
I’ve worked with breast cancer patients for many years, but I’ve been focused on breast reconstruction since 2010.
What makes your job rewarding?
I get to treat women from all over the country. Breast cancer patients are drawn to UCSF for its reputation and its resources. Most women have implant-based reconstruction because so few plastic surgeons are trained in tissue-transfer techniques. Implants often work well, but it’s important for breast cancer patients to have as many reconstruction options as possible.
What excites you about the future of your field?
As we continue to advance these operations, women who’ve lost one or both breasts to cancer will have more and better choices. The more we learn, the better the results.
What’s the best part of working at UCSF?
The team atmosphere. I often perform tissue-transfer surgeries alongside another surgeon, most often Dr. Scott Hansen. By working together — one surgeon on the belly and another on the chest — we are more efficient. The patient gets two highly trained microsurgeons instead of one. Along with double the expertise, this approach means the woman spends less time in the operating room. And less time in the operating room is always better for the patient because it lowers the risk of complications.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not practicing medicine?
I love exploring San Francisco. I grew up and went to school on the East Coast, so living in California has been a big switch. People in San Francisco are so laid back and nice! I enjoy taking advantage of everything the City has to offer from eating out at amazing restaurants, to jogging on the Embarcadero and meeting up with friends to hike on the weekends. I especially love the weather. I’ve never lived in a place where I can exercise outdoors every day of the year. I’ve been here for nine months and every day is just better than the next.
Interviewed by Catherine Guthrie.
Photo by Tom Seawell.
Breast Care Plastic Surgery
1600 Divisadero St., Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone (Dr. Robert Foster): (415) 885-7729
Phone (Dr. Hani Sbitany): (415) 353-9985
Fax: (415) 353-9541