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

In a B.C. first, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital improves patient experience in the tumour removal process, making it less invasive and more efficient

Breast cancer surgery is a little bit less stressful now that a B.C. hospital is using innovative technology to solve a decades-long issue.

Providence Breast Centre at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital is employing the use of a Canadian-made solution to the removal process of cancer from breasts.

In a traditional procedure, radiologists insert long metal wires into the tumour to mark its location. Patients then endure uncomfortable and stressful periods of time with a wire protruding from their breast while waiting for surgery.

This new technology changes that.

Developed by a Toronto-based company, the breast-marker technology originated from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, but its roll out at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital was funded by St. Paul’s Foundation donors.

With the new procedure, radiologists insert a tiny 3.2-millimetre magnetic seed into the tumour to improve accuracy during removal. This minimally invasive method allows patients to return to their regular lives while they wait for surgery.

Later, a magnetic wand is rolled over the breast to locate the seed, and a digital tablet provides helpful cues to the doctor performing the surgery.

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Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, which leads the province with around 1,200 breast-cancer surgeries annually, is the first in B.C. to adopt the advanced procedure and is hoping it will be less stressful and disruptive to a patient’s life.

Dr. Amy Bazzarelli, a surgical oncologist at the centre, says there have been significant improvements in patient experience, as the surgery becomes more precise and efficient.

In the past, “we were limited in terms of the number of fine wires we could do in a day,” Bazzarelli said.

“There is more flexibility with surgical booking, so hopefully that would translate into an improvement in terms of efficiency, which we hope would in turn allow for more patients to get through the system.”

Although clinicians at Bazzarelli’s hospital haven’t yet proved that the new technology could improve wait times, they are hopeful, as the province faces a hefty surgical backlog.

For patients like Delta resident Kim Brown, all that matters is the improved quality of life during the procedure compared to traditional wire removal surgeries.

Brown, a breast-cancer survivor who underwent both the traditional and the new seed-based tumor removal surgery, attests to the vast improvement — both physical and mental — with the new seed method.

“It wasn’t painful. I was in no pain at all, which was really, really nice,” Brown said. “And, so, my recovery time was really fast.”

Brown adds that the older method made her feel like “a cyborg,” because she had wires protruding her breasts. “It was uncomfortable and scary because you have to be like that until you go into surgery.”

Brazzarelli said the fact that it’s less invasive on a patient is even better.

Because the seed is only the size of a sesame seed, patients don’t feel it, she said, “and they can get about their everyday life until they have their surgery.”

The feedback from questionnaires she has received have been positive for both practitioners and patients, and she hopes the seed technology becomes the standard of treatment in the future, although it is the standard elsewhere.

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