promising breast cancer technique at the CHUM

Last updated on September 5th, 2018

A project developed in 2011 at CHUM allows oncology surgeons to treat more patients with breast cancer. Thanks to a technique developed in a Mayo Clinic in the United States, it is possible to more easily identify cancerous tumors.

Marie-Ève ​​Julien is one of the patients participating in what was initially a pilot project, but which has become a regular program of the CHUM. She is about to undergo the removal of a cancerous tumor lodged in her right breast.

She does not seem worried and trusts the treatment. “I’m just happy. I tell myself that I’m in good hands, “says Ms. Julien.

The medical team that will take care of her will use a technique developed in the United States, but used nowhere else in Quebec: the insertion of a radioactive ball, that is to say a marker placed in the tumor.

During the operation, the medical staff will use a probe capable of detecting radioactivity to identify the ball and at the same time the tumor.

Dr. Julie David, a CHUM radiologist, explains that doctors use this technique to target their intervention.

Why do we have to put a marker? Because there are some tumors that are not palpable. So, the surgeon, to find the lesion, must have a marker to know where to go to make his incision and remove the tumor.

Dr. Julie David, Radiologist


Usually, a metal harpoon is installed by a radiologist to find the lesion to be removed. A technique that is effective, but has disadvantages.

The surgery is performed in the operating room, but the harpoon must absolutely be placed the morning of the intervention in the radiology department, which causes additional delays.

Since the radioactive ball can be inserted up to five days earlier, there are no delays that occur on the day of the operation.

Normally, you can have four breast cancers in one day. When we started to put the radioactive ball, we could operate five cases of breast cancer in one day. For the population, it is a big advantage in terms of waiting lists.

Dr. Erica Patocksai, Chief of Surgical Oncology at the CHUM

In addition, this technique makes it possible to treat more patients because of its speed of execution.

“It’s just easier for us. Then it has been shown in the literature that it is faster surgery, “says Dr. Erica Patocksai, head of oncology surgery at the CHUM.

The CHUM team now wants this technique to snowball everywhere in Quebec.

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