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Pathology Device Averts Repeated Breast Cancer Surgeries

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 16 Jul 2013
Image: The prototype device applies an adhesive film to the breast tissue before examination (Photo courtesy of Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu).
Image: The prototype device applies an adhesive film to the breast tissue before examination (Photo courtesy of Will Kirk/homewoodphoto.jhu.edu).
A new tool will allow pathologists to quickly inspect excised breast tissue while the patient is still in the operating room (OR), reducing the need for a second surgery.

Developed by graduate students at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD, USA), the prototype device applies an adhesive film to the specimen breast tissue before it is sliced; the film thus holds the delicate tissue together, preventing damage to the samples during the preparation process. The result is a sample that can be clearly reviewed by a pathologist within 20 minutes of its removal, potentially eliminating the need for a second operation on another day. The low-cost system includes a reusable applicator and a proprietary disposable film.

“We spoke to breast cancer surgeons,” said Hector Neira, MSc, one of the student inventors. “They told us that they are desperate for something that will allow them to remove the tumor in its entirety the first time, so that the patient doesn’t have to come back for a second surgery.”

“I think the students have been incredibly creative in their development of this concept, and they are addressing a very real need in the field of breast cancer surgery,” added professor of Surgery Melissa Camp, who worked with the students. “Accurate assessment of margin status during the initial operation will lead to fewer reoperations, and this will be beneficial for patients in many respects. I look forward to their continued work!”

When most tumors are removed, pathologist can quickly flash-freeze the tissue and slice off paper-thin samples for microscopic examination; if the pathologist sees that cancer cells extend to the outer edge or margin of a sample, the surgeon is advised to remove more tissue from the patient. Breast tissue, however, poses a problem; it has a high fat content and does not freeze well, causing the samples to smear, form gaps, and become unsuitable for a quick review.

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