Doctors at Allegheny Health Network are offering a more patient-friendly and effective technique for pinpointing the location of small breast tumors, using tiny, implanted radioactive seeds.
Radioactive seed localization lets surgeons precisely target the location of these small tumors, increasing the chances that they will remove the cancerous tissue and leave healthy tissue surrounding the tumor intact. For patients, radioactive seed localization minimizes discomfort during a stressful time in their lives.
The technique, available at only select medical centers around the country, will eventually be used for most women with a tumor that can be removed with breast conservation, said Dr. William Poller, director of breast imaging at Allegheny Health Network.
In radioactive seed localization, a radiologist injects the seeds, which are about the size of a grain of rice, into the patient’s tumor. The older technique involved inserting wires into the breast, a procedure that at times made a difficult day even harder on patients.
“We can insert the radioactive pellet at the patient’s convenience, even several days before the surgery,” Dr. Poller said. “The wires had to be inserted by a radiologist two hours prior to the surgery, necessitating more scheduling and often leaving the patient in some discomfort as she waited for surgery.”
“With radioactive seed localization, patients proceed directly to the operating room on the day of surgery,” said Dr. Kathleen Erb, an Allegheny Health breast surgeon who is using the new technology “The pellets, which emit a very low dose of radiation, are removed along with the tumor.”
The surgeon locates the seed using a Geiger counter so that she knows exactly where the incision should be placed to minimize the amount of tissue removed. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Surgery found using radioactive seeds reduced the need for repeat surgery by 50 percent compared to the wire method.
“Thanks to advanced imaging technologies, we can find tumors even before they can be felt by the patient,” Poller said. “Now when we go into surgery we can precisely target those very small tumors and get the best outcome for patients.”