A tiny new radioactive pellet as small as a grain of rice is a new ally in the fight against breast cancer. Radioactive seed localization, a new noninvasive technique for locating tumors during breast cancer surgery is being successfully used by physicians at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The procedure is offered at only two other U.S. medical centers at the time of this writing.

“The new technique is less invasive for the patient and allows us to be more precise when removing possible breast-cancer tumors," said Dr. Roshni Rao, a surgical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer.

Guidewire Localization Method

The most widely used localization method is wire localization. In this procedure, a radiologist lances a thin, hooked wire into the breast to help guide the surgeon to the location of the mass, referencing mammogram or ultrasound images. While one end of the wire is lodged at or near the mass, the other end protrudes from the patients skin.

It is uncomfortable for the patient, and also may not deliver the same precision in surgical margins for error. Radioactive seed localization can be done up to five days prior to surgery, as opposed to the guide wire, which must be placed the day of surgery.

A 2006 study comparing the use of radioactive seed versus wire localization for locating tumors during breast cancer surgery confirms that radioactive seed localization is more precise, and less invasive approach than wire localization, resulting in fewer patients needing follow-up operations.

One Womans Story

For patient Joan Hollers, 58, the pre-operative procedure was quick, easy and painless, she said.

After a mammogram had detected a suspicious mass in her left breast, Ms. Hollers consulted with Dr. Rao who decided on the seed procedure.

Dr. Ulissey numbed Ms. Hollers breast before inserting the radioactive seed, which gives off less radiation than the amount emitted by a standard X-ray.

“I felt the prick of what felt to me like a tiny needle,“ said Ms. Hollers. “I went home with a small Band-Aid and went to work the next day.”

Several days later, the Rowlett resident returned to the hospital so that Dr. Rao could remove the suspicious mass.

While the mass in the left breast has been eliminated, Ms. Hollers will undergo chemotherapy for a cancerous tumor that was found in her right breast and cant be surgically removed until the therapy is complete.

Despite the surgery and long road ahead, Ms. Hollers is optimistic.

When I got the news that I didnt have cancer anywhere else in my body I told myself, “Im not dying from this disease,“ said Ms. Hollers, a mother of three grown children and grandmother to eight grandchildren.

Adapted from a Southwestern Medical Center news release.

_ Image: Scanning electron micrograph of breast cancer cells showing evidence of apoptosis. Credit Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images Creative Commons. _

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