Revolutionizing breast cancer surgery: B.C. hospital adopts innovative technology

Breast cancer surgery is less stressful as BC hospitals are using innovative technology to solve a decades-old problem.

The Providence Breast Center at Mount St. Joseph Hospital is using a Canadian-made solution to remove breast cancer.

In traditional surgery, a radiologist inserts long metal wires into the tumor to mark its location. The patient then endures a period of discomfort and tension from the wire protruding from the breast. This new technology changes that.

The breast-marking technique developed by the Toronto-based company originated at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, but its rollout at Mount St. Joseph Hospital was funded by St. Paul’s Foundation donors.

During the procedure, radiologists implant a tiny 3.2mm magnetic particle into the tumor, which improves the accuracy of tumor removal. A magnetic wand is then rolled over the breast to locate the seed, and a digital tablet is used to give the doctor helpful hints.

This minimally invasive approach allows patients to return to normal life while awaiting surgery.

Mount St. Joseph Hospital, which performs approximately 1,200 breast cancer surgeries across the province each year, is the first hospital in British Columbia to adopt this advanced procedure, which it hopes will reduce stress and disruption to patients’ lives.

Dr. Amy Bazzarelli, a surgical oncologist at the center, said the patient experience has improved dramatically as procedures have become more precise and efficient.

In the past, “we were limited to the number of thin threads we could do in a day,” Bazzarelli said.

“There’s more flexibility with surgery appointments, so hopefully that will translate into increased efficiency, which we hope will in turn get more patients through the system.”

While clinicians at Bazzarelli Hospital have yet to prove that the new technology can shorten wait times, they are hopeful as the province faces a large surgical backlog.

Important to patients like Delta resident Kim Brown is the improved quality of life during the procedure compared to traditional wire extraction.

Brown, a breast cancer survivor who has undergone both traditional and new seed-based tumor resection procedures, has demonstrated dramatic physical and mental improvements with the new seed method.

“It wasn’t painful. I wasn’t in any pain, which was really, really good,” Brown said. “So, my recovery time was really fast.”

Brown added that the traditional wire method made her feel like a “cyborg” because of the wire on her breasts. “It was uncomfortable and scary because you had to be like that before you had surgery.”

Even better, it’s less invasive for patients, Brazzarelli said.

Because the seeds are only about the size of a sesame seed, patients can’t feel them, she said, “and they can go about their daily lives until surgery.”

The questionnaire feedback she has received has been positive for both practitioners and patients, and she hopes that seed technology will become the standard of care in the future, although it is the standard elsewhere.

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