Utah surgeon creates more effective breast cancer treatment

Posted at 11:09 PM, Feb 03, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY -- A local surgeon is helping women fight breast cancer using a new technique that has been credited with pinpointing the disease more quickly.

Dr. Jennifer Tittensor said the new technique is called radioactive seed localization, or RSL, and the procedure makes finding and fighting cancer easier. She said the process should improve care for those with breast cancer.

“The biggest deal is to get the cancer completely out and cure the patient,” she said. “So I think we can do that with better accuracy in one surgery with the seed.”

Tittensor said the procedure helps doctors locate and remove cancer.

"A radioactive seed is a 4-millimeter or quarter-of-an-inch size device that carries a small dose of radioactivity that helps us localize very small breast cancers and remove them,"
she said. “Mammography is so advanced these days that they’ll pick up on small tumors but long before they can be felt.”

Surgical Pathologist Matthew Leavitt said RSL is an alternative to needle wire localization, which places a needle near the abnormal tissue—and that tissue is then removed. Doctors said RSL is better because it doesn’t remove extra tissue and because the physician has a better idea of where the trouble spot is.

"With the radioactive seed localization, because there is not a wire poking out of it and because there is actually a need to open the tissue to remove the seed, we can assess at the time of the surgery, not completely, but at least we have a preliminary assessment on whether or not the tumor has been completely removed," Leavitt said.

Radiologist Matthew McNairy said the procedure makes it easier for physicians.

“When we are placing the seed we can approach that tumor from any angle because it doesn’t really matter the path of the needle,” he said. “It’s just the end result of where the seed is located.”

Tittensor said the procedure is more convenient for patients. It takes about 15 minutes to plant the seed, and then the surgery to remove the tissue takes about 30 minutes. She said the two visits can be separated if needed.

"You can uncouple the scheduling of radiology and surgery if you need to,” she said. “So our protocol states that a seed can be placed into the patient up to two days before the operation. So we can have the patient come in the day before if that is more convenient for her, and then she can just come right to the operating room at her scheduled surgery time."

Doctors said the amount of radiation used in RSL is barely measurable, and therefore it isn’t harmful to the patient.

For more information visit