Breast cancer: New tool helps reduce repeat surgeries


"She said I needed to come in and have a second one because they didn't get it all they didn't see it all," she said.

Surgeons removed more tissue, and sent the sample to a lab. There, a pathologist examined the margins, or edges, of the tissue to make sure no more cancer remains. But if any cancerous cells are spotted, another surgery is needed.

"It was kind of sad and depressing for a while but I have so much support," said Dekart.

Nationally the re-excision rate can be as high as 50 percent or more. That means one out of two women who get breast tissue removed have to go in for a second surgery.

"We're always looking for ways to decrease the number of times we have to operate," said surgeon Dr. Deanna Attai with Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.

Now, a new tool helps doctors target cancer better. The device, called the MarginProbe, helps surgeons spot cancer cells on the edges of breast tissue right in the operating room.

There are only three devices in use like this in the country. Attai has one of them.

She says the probe senses cancer cells through their electrical signatures.

"And cancer cells tend to have different electrical signals, different cell properties than normal cells. And this test has been found to be 70 percent accurate," she said.

Clinical trials show the margin probe significantly reduces the need for additional surgeries. But it doesn't replace a pathologist's trained eye; it's just another tool to help surgeons precisely target cancer so they can remove as much as possible.

"This at least helps and it certainly is a step in the right direction," Attai said.

Attai advises all women undergoing breast surgery to ask their doctors what their re-excision rate is. If it's higher than the national average of 30 to 50 percent, it might be a good idea to find a surgeon with a lower rate.

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