Small device promises big impact for breast cancer patients

Christobel Saunders stands in a consulting suite wearing surgical scrubs
Professor Christobel Saunders
October 13, 2020

A hand-held imaging probe may only be a small device but it promises to have a big impact for women undergoing surgery for breast cancer.

Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) consultant breast surgeon and researcher Professor Christobel Saunders is leading a team developing a probe to provide real-time guidance during surgery to delineate cancerous tissue from healthy tissue at a microscopic level.

“It basically translates the surgeon’s sense of touch into a microscale image to get all the cancerous tissue out of the breast in one go,” Professor Saunders said.

About a quarter of breast cancer patients currently require two rounds of surgery because surgeons, working mostly by touch, are unable to detect microscopic tumours during the first operation.

Benchtop trials have shown the device has 96 per cent accuracy in detecting microscopic evidence of cancer.

Professor Saunders said the device would have benefits for both patients and the health system.

“If we can reduce the number of repeat surgeries by removing all of the tumour in the first operation, it will directly impact the lives of patients and reduce the considerable healthcare costs associated with repeat surgeries.

“It will also help women avoid mastectomy as they can choose breast conserving surgery, such as lumpectomy, with the peace of mind all of the cancerous cells will be removed in one operation.”

The research is funded by WA-based OncoRes Medical Pty Ltd, which is funded by the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund, along with other Commonwealth and State funding sources.

While still in the early stages of development, the device will soon be put to the test in clinical trials.

Read more about research conducted across South Metropolitan Health Service in its 2019 Research Report (external PDF 4.1MB).

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