Memorial Sloan-Kettering is the first and only hospital in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to offer a new, more patient-friendly approach for surgeons to find and remove very small breast cancers, explains Monica Morrow, Chief of the Breast Surgical Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. The procedure, called radioactive seed localization, is performed by a breast radiologist who, guided by mammography, injects a tiny seed with a low dose of radioactivity into the patient’s breast to mark the exact location of the cancer. This can be performed up to two weeks before a biopsy or lumpectomy.
Once in the operating room, surgeons use a handheld Geiger counter to zero in on the seed and precisely navigate to the cancer, which is removed along with the seed during the operation. There is no radioactivity remaining in the body after the seed is taken out.
In the past, patients with small breast cancers were required to undergo a procedure hours before their biopsy or lumpectomy called breast needle localization, in which a radiologist inserted a needle with a fine wire into the breast to map the location of the cancer. The wire remained in the breast, poking out of the skin for several hours, to guide the surgeon during the operation later the same day.