Before having surgery to remove a lump, breast cancer patients must undergo a procedure that typically involves inserting wires into the breast to mark the location of the lump. The process can be painful and make for a long day at the hospital.
Dr. Maen Farha, medical director of the Union Memorial Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital breast centers, has begun using less intrusive electromagnetic wave technology to locate and remove breast lumps not detectable by touch. He uses a device that provides “real-time guidance” to insert a reflector directly into the breast lump, according to MedStar Health Cancer Network.
The technology requires placing a 3-millimeter transmitter in a breast lump up to 30 days before surgery. In the operating room, the transmitter is detected by an electromagnetic wave, allowing the surgeon to pinpoint the lump. The transmitter is then removed along with the cancerous tissue.
“It means we take less tissue, meaning it’s less traumatic” for breast cancer patients, Farha said. Breast tumors are relatively small, he said, and not being able to easily locate them can result in additional tissue loss.
“This is more precise,” he said.
The procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes, Farha said.
Breast cancer is the second-most-common cancer in women, after skin cancer, and chances of getting it increase with age, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the past 30 years, the common procedure has been to use needle wire localization, which involves sticking wires into the breast that will protrude through the skin. The process must be done on the day of the surgery.
“It makes the day very long,” Farha said of the wire procedure. It can also be painful and require a lot of time in an operating room, he said.
Farha “is the first and only physician in the state” to offer breast cancer patients the new technology, according to the MedStar Health Cancer Network, which comprises four hospitals including Union Memorial and Good Samaritan.
The device, developed by Cianna Medical Inc., went on the market in 2015 and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although Cianna’s website says its product has been used at over 150 medical facilities and in more than 15,000 procedures through July, not all hospitals are embracing the technology.
Dr. David Euhus, director of the Johns Hopkins Breast Center, said his team evaluated the technology more than a year ago but decided not to use it.
“I don’t think it’s the final answer. Someday there will something smaller with a better signal,” he said.
At his previous position at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Euhus said, the department used radioactive seeds, which could be inserted two days before surgery and provide a high level of accuracy. But physicians have to account for all the seeds, which provide a dose of radiation to the breast tissue, once they are inserted into a patient.
The electromagnetic wave devices are beneficial, he said, because they don’t have to be inserted into a patient on the same day as surgery, making for less time in the operating room.
“It’s a great step in the right direction, but the final product is going to be small and have a strong signal,” Euhus said.
Dr. Farha is more than satisfied with what’s currently available.
“The convenience factor alone is an advancement that we are pleased to be able to offer,” he said in a written statement. “More important is [that] the level of precision afforded by this technology gives us an increased probability of removing all the cancer."