Cancer Detection: Lighter, Quicker, Better
New technology for breast cancer patients skips radioactive materials and invasive procedures
Most cancer patients wisely opt to get the “spot” out — and fast. Early action is critical for all cancer patients and has proven especially effective for those with breast cancer. The five-year survival rate for early stage breast cancer is 99 percent.
Now a new surgical procedure could make this process even better. About 65 percent of women currently diagnosed with breast cancer undergo surgery called a lumpectomy, in which doctors remove the tumor and its surrounding tissue from the breast. Lumpectomies are often combined with radiation therapy to reduce the chance of the cancer returning.
Up to 50 percent of breast tumors are too small to be felt at the time of diagnosis, making it difficult for surgeons during a lumpectomy.
This surgery has proven highly effective for the early stages. Some studies suggest women who choose to have a lumpectomy actually have higher long-term survival rates than women who choose more invasive surgeries, such as a mastectomy. This is true even when imaging tests show tiny clusters of cancerous cells that cannot be removed by surgery, but can be controlled with radiation.
Technology developed by the physicist Audrius Brazdeikis at the University of Houston and fellow researchers at University College London could increase the accuracy and efficiency of lumpectomies. Brazdeikis and his collaborators created a magnetic surgical guidance probe, called Sentimag; when combined with other magnetic tracers, it can detect the spread of cancer and mark the location of cancerous tissue.
One magnetic marker, called Magseed, is about the size of a grain of rice, and is implanted in the cancerous tissue prior to a lumpectomy. Surgeons then take audio-visual cues from the Sentimag guidance probe to locate the Magseed marker during the lumpectomy.
Up to 50 percent of breast tumors are too small to be felt at the time of diagnosis, and that makes it difficult for surgeons to locate the tumor during a lumpectomy. Presently, radiologists prepare patients for surgery by inserting guide wires and radioactive material into the breast to mark the tumor. Patients are often required to stay for a longer time at the hospital — at an average of $10,000 a day — to receive this procedure.
Accuracy isn’t guaranteed, either — if the wires budge, the surgeon may misjudge the tumor’s location. As a result, more than 50 percent of lumpectomies require follow-up surgeries.
The technology is already being used in Europe for other cancers, such as melanoma, prostate, and thyroid.
The Magseed marker, on the other hand, can be inserted up to 30 days prior to surgery and requires no additional time at the hospital. Brazdeikis says that this new technology “eliminates the use of radioactive materials in operating rooms and offers a less invasive, more flexible option.” He continues: “There are no protruding guide wires that risk movement prior to surgery. This offers a safer, more comfortable experience for the patient, as well as scheduling flexibility.”
Sentimag has been available for some time on the European market but is just now coming to the U.S. In Europe, it has been used in 14,000 breast cancer procedures to great success. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use in the U.S. last April, and the company acquired a distributor, Devicor Medical Products, last month. Brazdeikis said the Sentimag and Magseed combination represent “a significant enhancement over existing practices” — and at a lower overall cost.
This development means great strides for breast cancer patients. But they aren’t the only patients to benefit from these technologies.
- Of high-risk breast cancer patients destined for chemotherapy, use of a 70-gene signature test called the MammaPrint found that half (49%) of these women could skip chemotherapy. The new test is said to already be widely available.
The Sentimag probe can also be used with a nanoparticle tracer, called Sienna, which can be used to find the first lymph node that drains a cancer. In metastasis, cancerous cells break off from the main tumors and travel throughout the body in the bloodstream or lymph system.
The Sentimag and Sienna platform allows doctors “real-time localization of the first lymph node that drains the tumor that is most likely to harbor metastases that can also spread to other parts of the body,” Brazdeikis explained. This technology is already being used in Europe for other cancers, such as melanoma, prostate, and thyroid, and it could have applications to lung and colorectal cancer. However, these procedures are pending approval from the FDA.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year. About 40,450 women will die from it. It’s the most common cancer among American women, aside from skin cancer. For many breast cancer patients, the Sentimag and Magseed technology could make a daunting treatment for a deadly disease not only more manageable — but also more successful.