The British National Health Service (NHS) has begun using a small handheld radar unit called the “Margin Probe” to detect tumors that are hidden in breast tissue. This Margin Probe is used while the patient is on the operating table undergoing an operation to remove cancerous tissue.

Prior to use of the Margin Probe, during a surgical procedure called a “lumpectomy,” the lump (tumor) is removed along with some of the healthy tissue surrounding it. This is known as the “margin.” Removal of healthy tissue is insurance against the cancer having spread into surrounding tissue. That tissue is then sent out to a lab to be tested and results awaited (six weeks, typically.)

If the margin is deemed to be what is called a “negative margin” then that means no cancerous cells were detected in the sample. If cancerous tissue is present then that patient faces a second surgery to excise that tissue.

Research shows that an average of 25 to 30 percent of patients do require additional surgery as cancerous tissue is found after surgery, many times at the edges of the removed tissue or “margin.”

By examining the breast with the Margin Probe while the patient is in surgery, the ability to find other tumors is greatly increased and surgeons can receive the results in five minutes and remove any cancerous tissue discovered while the patient is on the operating table.

What does this mean for women with breast cancer? Well, typically tests would be conducted after surgery looking for cancerous tissue missed by the initial surgery and results could take six or more weeks. If additional cancerous tissue is discovered, the additional surgery is also required, which brings the patient back to the hospital all over again.

Being able to see if there is additional cancerous tissue in need of removal while the patient is in surgery allows the doctor to remove that tissue immediately negating the need for a second operation at a later date. This is an outcome beneficial to the patient and to the hospital and doctor. That patient has the cancerous tissue removed at that moment without having to be retested, wait for results, and possibly undergo an additional surgery. For doctors and hospitals it reduced the number of surgeries and frees up time and resources to serve additional patients.

The margin probe, which is about the size of a curling iron, allows surgeons to immediately assess the existence of cancerous cells while the patient is on the table and gives them the information on the spot. This lets’ them operate immediately based on that information, avoiding the need for a second surgery by 50% according the NHS and preventing further spread of the cancer while awaiting test results.

For more information on the Margin probe, you can visit their site here.

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