SURGEONS at a North-East hospital have become the first in the UK to offer pioneering new treatment to breast cancer patients.

Breast specialists at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) are using a new procedure involving radioactive seeds to target cancerous lymph nodes more accurately.

In 2014 Newcastle Hospitals became the first, and is still the only trust in the UK to offer a procedure known as Radioactive Seed Localisation. The procedure uses a very low dose radioactive seed - about the size of a grain of rice – as a beacon to guide surgeons to the exact location of the tumour that is being removed.

Loading article content

Use of the procedure is now being extended to help localise cancerous lymph nodes.

Henry Cain consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon at the RVI said: “Traditionally, patients with a pre-operative diagnosis of cancerous lymph nodes are recommended to have a full clearance of the majority of the lymph nodes in their armpit. It is now understood that for some patients this more radical surgery is unnecessary especially for those patients having pre-operative chemotherapy.”

Currently, the positive lymph node is marked with a clip prior to chemotherapy so that surgeons can make sure this node is removed during the patient’s operation. On the morning of surgery a guide wire is inserted into the cancerous lymph nodes to guide surgeons to the correct node. As it can be difficult to know the exact location of the tip of the guide wire, this approach can result in more tissue being removed from the armpit.

Now, using ultrasound as a guide, a seed is inserted directly into the cancerous lymph node. Surgeons then use the seed as a guide to its exact location, meaning only the cancerous lymph node is removed.

Mr Cain said: “We have already completed over 800 operations to remove breast tumours using this procedure, with excellent results. Expanding the use of this exciting new procedure to the removal of cancerous lymph nodes will allow us to do less aggressive surgery, but still maintain a high level of success in our breast cancer patients.”

Marian Stokle from Heaton in Newcastle is one of the first patients in the UK to have a targeted axillary dissection using a radioactive seed.

The 58-year-old , who was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2017, said: “The procedure to have the seeds implanted only took an hour and a half and although it was a little uncomfortable it was relatively painless. I even managed to have a week in Majorca in between the insertion of the seeds, my last chemotherapy session and my surgery.

“I am eternally grateful to Mr Cain and the team.”