Memorial Sloan-Kettering is the first and only hospital in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to offer a new, more patient-friendly approach for doctors to precisely pinpoint and remove very small breast cancers that can be seen on a mammogram but not felt in the breast.
The procedure, called radioactive seed localization, begins with a breast radiologist injecting tiny, sealed radioactive sources called "seeds" into the patient's breast to mark the exact location of the cancer. The radiologist can perform this image-guided procedure up to two weeks before a biopsy or lumpectomy.
Once in the operating room, surgeons use a handheld radiation detection device, developed specifically for this procedure, to zero in on the seed and precisely navigate to the location of the cancer, which is removed along with the seed during the operation. After the procedure, there is no radioactivity remaining in the body. A pathologist ultimately takes the seed out of the breast tissue in the laboratory, and radiation safety officers ensure the seed's safe disposal.
In the past, patients with such small breast cancers were required to undergo a procedure a few hours before their biopsy or lumpectomy called breast needle localization, in which a radiologist inserted a needle with a fine wire into the breast to map the location of the cancer. The wire remained in the breast, poking out of the skin for several hours, to guide the surgeon during the operation later the same day.
Studies suggest that radioactive seed localization results in more-precise removal of small breast cancers as compared to traditional breast needle localization. It also reduces the need to have a second surgery due to incomplete removal of the abnormal tissue.