Radiologists Participate in Revolutionary New Breast Cancer Treatment

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Published: 13 Nov 2014      

A group of specialists based at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle are currently offering a revolutionary new form of breast cancer treatment that utilises ultrasound to allow surgeons to detect unseen tumours.

The technique, which is called 'radioactive seed localisation' allows specialists to more accurately examine breast tissue to discover any traces of a tumour. However, at the moment it can only be carried by hospitals that maintain the proper accreditation.

The technique allows radiologists to make use of ultrasound as a guide to insert a tiny "seed" of radiation into a tumour that is then surgically treated. This seed essentially acts as a beacon for the surgical team, ensuring that they can find the tumour quickly and ensuring the surgery itself is carried out as accurately and efficiently as possible.

Dr Nader Khonji, consultant breast surgeon at the hospital, commented: "Traditionally we use a wire which is inserted on the day of surgery, next to the cancer in the breast, using ultrasound or mammography as a guide.

"It can be difficult to know the precise position of the tip of the wire.

"This can result in more tissue being removed from the breast, or in the tissue removed having close edges to the cancer, with a repeat operation being required.

"It can also be quite stressful for patients to have this procedure just before their operation."

It is hoped that the procedure will cut down on the repeat procedures mentioned by Dr Khonji, in addition to being generally safer than the current wire method.

The technique has already been well-tested and has been successfully used on at least one patient at the hospital. Kristina Owen was the first person in the UK to undergo the treatment. Her particular tumour was only found after she went to a breast screening appointment, and had been impossible to find through the standard touch methods that are recommended for people who wish to examine their own bodies for tumours.

This meant that the tumour was in a difficult to reach place, which in turn demonstrated the effectiveness of the technique in surgery.

Ms Owen commented: "There is a history of breast cancer in my family and so I had a breast screening appointment early last year which was clear.

"This year, I received my first routine appointment and the mammogram picked up what we originally thought might be an abnormal cyst.

"The radiologist did an ultrasound and followed this up with a biopsy to be sure. She found I had a grade one tumour in the very early stages of development.

"Because my tumour was found quickly, despite it being an invasive type, I don’t need any chemotherapy. I will need some radiotherapy but I feel very lucky."

The hospital is hoping to phase out the use of wires entirely over the next few months, paving the way for the new technique to be adopted across a wider range of hospitals. Consultants and Ms Owen have urged women to undergo regular breast screening to ensure that they stand the highest chance possible of catching tumours that may not be immediately apparent.


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