Detecting breast cancer

A new device that makes it easier for surgeons to locate early stage breast cancers and reduces patients’ stress on the day of surgery is now being used at Oxford Women’s Health and trialled at Christchurch Hospital.

Oxford Women’s Health’s Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon Josie Todd (pictured) says the device called Scout reflector was implanted for the first time in New Zealand for an Oxford Women’s Health patient in July 2022. Her experience and that of subsequent patients has been excellent.

Breast cancer is one of the commonest cancers, affecting thousands of New Zealand women each year. Many women who are diagnosed at an early stage without an obvious lump, or through the Breast Screening programme, have needed to undergo surgery with a hook-wire in place to help identify the disease.

Typically, these women require the hook-wire to be positioned on the morning of surgery in a radiology suite before the operation. Josie says there have been many disadvantages to this system, including added stress for patients who have often had to travel across town from a radiology suite to the hospital theatre, complex logistics for radiology departments, and delays in theatre while waiting for patients.

The Scout reflector, which is detected using an ultrasound pulse, is about the size of a grain of rice and is implanted into the breast via a small needle prior to surgery. This can be done weeks in advance in a radiology suite. This helps to significantly reduce patient anxiety on the day of surgery and allows radiology departments and theatres to better streamline
their services.

“I have been looking for a good alternative to the hook-wire for many years and believe we’ve finally found a safe and effective option,” Josie says. “There have been other locator devices introduced over the last decade, but each has had its own disadvantages, including interference with MRI scanners, and not being able to be left in the breast for longer than a few days,” she says.

The Scout reflector can be placed at the time of diagnosis and works particularly well for patients who require chemotherapy for several months prior to surgery. The reflector can then be safely removed at the time of surgery.

“There are so many advantages for patients, surgeons and the health system with this technique and it is important for clinicians and patients to be aware of available options,” Josie says.

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