The Trust is providing even better care for breast cancer patients thanks to the introduction of a new radioactive ‘seed’ technique to improve patient experience as well as surgical outcomes following surgery.
However, our new procedure aids the surgeons in identifying very small breast cancers prior to surgical removal.
North Tees Breast Screening Unit can identify cancers so small there is no lump or other visible signs. Traditionally, a thin piece of metal wire was inserted into the breast on the day of the operation which the surgeon followed as a guide-line to the location of the tumour.
The new process sees the guide-wire replaced with a tiny, radioactive iodine seed encased in a metal shell.
The seed, which emits a weak radioactive signal, is injected into the tumour by a breast radiologist. As a result this can be easily located by the surgeon using a special piece of theatre equipment that can detect the radioactive signal.
Dr Anuradha Anand, consultant radiologist for the Trust, said: “This is a real game-changer.
“Previously, the old metal guide-line procedure was uncomfortable and had to be fitted on the day of the operation when the patient is understandably stressed and nervous.
“Our new seed can be fitted up to two weeks before the operation with a simple injection. It’s painless, the radiation levels are extremely low and it allows more precise removal of the tumour.”
The future of breast cancer care
The technique, which was developed in the USA, has taken two and half years of extensive planning and training to bring to the University Hospital of North Tees.
Consultant medical physicist Karen Whicker said: “Even though the seeds use an extremely low level of radiation, there are still very strict guidelines in place.
“The whole team has undergone extensive training and learned about the safe handling of the seeds.
“The seeds themselves are stored in a bespoke, fire-proof safe and each one is returned to a licensed facility for safe disposal after removal.”
The training involved an unusual use of a popular dinner-time favourite.
Consultant breast surgeon Matei Dordea commented: “Yes, we used chicken breasts in our training!
“We would test each other’s scanning skills by injecting a seed into the chicken breast and seeing how accurately it could be located.”
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Hospital Foundation Trust is only the second trust in England to offer the Iodine seed method of breast cancer localisation surgery.
The project saw several specialists working together including consultant histopathologists Dr Natu and Dr Krishna, radiation protection supervisor Jen Taper, advanced practitioner biomedical scientist Steven Sharpe and theatre sisters Diane Miller and Helen Duncan.
Our Breast services webpage includes more details of the care we provide.