Goodbye, Guesswork

October 01, 2013

The new breast MarginProbe System, which may significantly improve a surgeon’s ability to remove cancer during lumpectomy, is being used by Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center.

In many cases, the probe can help breast cancer patients avoid a second surgery. Deanna J. Attai, MD, FACS, a breast surgeon on staff at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, explains: “In every lumpectomy, we’re trying to take out the tumor with a rim of surrounding normal breast tissue. The problem is, these are microscopic cells, so there’s a little bit of guesswork.”

That’s where the probe comes in.

The technology analyzes surgically removed breast tissue, quickly detecting differences in cell properties that could indicate the presence of cancer in the margins, or edges. “If we have cancer at the margin, we know there is a higher risk of cancer returning. The goal is always to have a clean margin,” Dr. Attai says.

If the probe indicates the presence of cancer, the breast surgeon can remove a larger area of tissue right then. Without the probe, surgeons must send the removed tissue to a lab to see whether any cancerous cells remain on the margins.

The probe is not 100 percent accurate, and it does not replace lab analysis. It does, however, increase a breast surgeon’s ability to remove cancer in one operation. “A second surgery can mean a second anesthesia, more removal of breast tissue, more anxiety, more time off of work and a potentially delayed start to radiation,” Dr. Attai says. “Anytime we have a tool that can help us get clean margins in one operation, that’s a good thing.”

As of September 2013, Providence Saint Joseph was one of only two facilities in California—and five in the country—using the breast MarginProbe, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2012.