Suzanne Somers Gets Experimental Breast Reconstruction
02/04/2012 AT 09:05 AM EST
In contrast to Chrissy Snow, the bombshell-next door she played on Three's Company, Somers strives to keep up with the latest medical technology.
"I am so ensconced in what's cutting edge," she tells PEOPLE. "I get my thrill out of passing on information to women so they can have a better quality of life."
Somers, a stage 1 breast cancer survivor, underwent a procedure that used her own stem cells.
The actress and best-selling author learned about the procedure three years ago when she found Dr. Kotaro Yoshimura, a Japanese surgeon who developed stem-cell breast reconstruction in 2004.
"I invited him over to Los Angeles to see if we could work together," she says. "He examined me. I kept saying, 'Bet you've never seen these big American whoppers before.' "
Somers says the breasts that helped make her famous had deteriorated after doctors found a malignant tumor in her right breast 12 years ago and she had a lumpectomy and radiation treatments.
"I thought they'd take a quarter's worth," she says. "But the whole bottom half of my breast was gone."
Six weeks of radiation "left what breast I had flatter and flatter. I had a Double D on one side and on the other side I could hardly fill a B."
Ultimately, Somers opted to have the surgery in the U.S. instead of traveling overseas.
"I decided I'd really like it to be an American achievement by an American doctor so that American women can have access," she says.
Last August, she helped launch a clinical trial, which has been approved by an independent medical board, and was the first patient to participate.
So far, 10 more patients have been accepted to the trial, which is taking place at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. (For more information, go to Hollywoodpresbyterian.com.)
Plastic surgeon Dr. Joel Aronowitz removed fat from Somers's stomach via liposuction. He then harvested stem cells from half of the fat and combined them with the remaining amount of fat.
The mixture was injected back into Somers's right breast until it filled a C cup. Somers then had her left breast reduced from a DD to match.
The 2½-hour process costs between $14,500 and $19,500 and insurance chips in if the surgery is a reconstruction.
"This whole thing is a win-win," says Somers. "You lose fat and get a new breast."
For those battling breast cancer, the procedure could be a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. "A woman can go through the devastating experience and come out whole and looking better," says Somers.
That's certainly how the actress feels. "It's tempting to go without a bra now," she says playfully, "but I won't – for my grandchildren."
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