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Breast Cancer Surgery Becomes More Precise
11/07/2012 11/07/2012

Spectrum Health Offers Radioactive "Seed"

For patients needing breast cancer surgery, a new procedure is making operations more precise and safer. Spectrum Health Betty Ford Breast Care Services is one of only a few providers nationally to offer I-125 radioactive seed placement prior to breast cancer surgery.

When surgery is necessary for breast cancer patients, either a biopsy or the removal of a tumor or lesion, it is very important that the surgeon locate exactly where in the breast to operate. With this new procedure, a radiologist places a low dose radioactive seed near the suspicious tumor in the patient’s breast up to five days before surgery. The radioactivity of the seed - which is about the size of a grain of rice - serves as a beacon during surgery.

"The procedure allows us to locate the cancer easily and accurately, which makes the surgery more effective and safe," said Marianne Melnik, MD, breast cancer surgeon, Spectrum Health Medical Group.

A mammogram is done after the seed is placed to confirm that the cancer has been correctly located. The surgeon uses a hand-held device to locate the seed during the biopsy or removal of the lesion.

Dr. Melnik said that there are benefits for the patient and the surgeon:

  • The procedure reduces wait times for patients. Traditionally, the patients have to see the radiologist for the needle localization on the same day of the surgery making it necessary to coordinate two procedures. With the radioactive seed this is no longer necessary. The seed can be placed up to five days prior to the surgery. 
  • The surgeon is able to locate the lesion more accurately and is able to remove less unaffected breast tissue. 
  • Because this procedure allows for more accuracy, it lowers the need for additional surgery. 
  • The pathologist has a more uniform specimen.

Thomas Getz, MD, medical director, Betty Ford Breast Care Services, said that most breast cancer surgeons use needle localization - in which a needle is used to guide the surgeon - to locate the lesion.

"Either procedure can be used successfully. The surgeon determines which procedure is appropriate for a patient's needs," he added.

Spectrum Health treats more breast cancer patients each year than at any other organization in Michigan.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan offering a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, which is comprised of nine hospitals including Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, a state of the art children's hospital that opened in January 2011, and 183 service sites; the Spectrum Health Medical Group and West Michigan Heart, physician groups totaling more than 700 providers; and Priority Health, a health plan with 600,000 members. Spectrum Health is West Michigan’s largest employer with 19,000 employees. The organization provided $204 million in community benefit during its 2012 fiscal year.

Butterworth Hospital

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