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Radioactive Seed Localization Pinpoints the Unseen

Breast cancer patient Carol Patton.

August 30, 2019

Because both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer, Carol Patton is meticulous about scheduling her annual mammograms. So when her mammogram revealed a tumor, her breast cancer was still at the earliest stage.

“Thankfully, my prognosis was as good as it gets,” she says.

When the tumor was discovered, Carol pursued genetic counseling at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. Her genetic markers showed no mutations, and an MRI confirmed a minuscule precancerous tumor. She would have a lumpectomy on both breasts.

At this point, Carol opted for a new procedure called radioactive seed localization, or RSL, which pinpoints tumors too small to be felt. This innovative alternative is available regionally only at the cancer center.

In the traditional method, a radiologist – using mammographic guidance – places a wire into the breast to mark the tiny tumor’s location, usually a couple of hours before surgery. The patient would then travel to the surgical facility, where a surgeon completed the procedure.

RSL can provide patients more ease, comfort and convenience. A specially trained radiologist numbs the breast tissue and inserts a tiny seed approximately 5mm long into the tissue. The small seed, about as thick as the lead in a mechanical pencil, emits a trace amount of radiation. Equipment in the operating room detects the signal, which shows surgeons the precise location of the tumor.

This type of precision means less risk of damaging healthy breast tissue.

“The benefits for patients and future treatments are incredible,” says Jamie Wagner, DO, breast surgical oncologist at the cancer center. “It’s exciting to be at an institution that is at the forefront of offering this to patients.”

During the surgery, doctors remove both the tumor and the seed. Breast seeds can be placed several days before surgery, giving patients greater comfort and flexibility in scheduling their procedures.

“I’ve lived throughout the United States, and I would rank my experience at The University of Kansas Cancer Center right up there with the very best,” says Carol. “They didn’t just treat my disease. They treated my worries too.”

KU Cancer Center physician meeting with patient prior to cancer treatment.

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As with all treatments, individual patient results vary. It is important to discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider.