The MarginProbe, which could help breast cancer patients avoid repeat surgeries to completely remove the cancerous cells, has been recommended for approval by the FDA.
When surgeons are removing tumors, they cannot actually see all the cancerous cells, some of which are microscopic. So they usually go by what the radiologist recommends.
It takes about a week to analyze the tissue that is removed, and sometimes doctors discover that more surgery is needed.
Having to get one breast cancer surgery is stressful enough. But 30 percent of women end up having to undergo a second or third operation to remove cancer that was missed the first time.
That’s what Janet Swerdlow wanted to avoid when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I had known a number of other women who had gone through breast cancer surgery and have had to have multiple surgeries because they didn’t have clean margins,” Swerdlow said. “So that was something that I, an anxiety that I had.”
When Swerdlow’s surgeon, Dr. Dennis Holmes with the Los Angeles Center for Women’s Health, told her about a new device that would help him get out all the cancer in the first surgery, she agreed.
The MarginProbe is a handheld tool that uses electromagnetic waves to detect possible cancerous cells invisible to the naked eye.
“The device has been trained to identify molecular features and some physiological properties of cancer cells and it’s been trained using samples of tissue that have been removed from women in the past,” Holmes said.
It takes seconds to get results.
“If it detects anything by its computer algorithm that looks like malignancy, it will then give a signal positive or negative indicating that cancer is either present or not present within a millimeter of the margin surface,” Holmes said.
That guides the surgeons to areas where they need to remove more tissue that may be cancerous.
“What the [clinical] trial found is that the use of the MarginProbe reduced the number of women requiring repeat surgery from 30 percent to 14 percent, which is better than a 50 percent reduction in the need for breast reoperation,” Holmes said.
Swerdlow’s surgeon used the MarginProbe during her operation.
“When I went for my follow-up after the surgery, they had the results of the biopsy,” she said. “The level of anxiety I had about hearing that result was significantly reduced because I had used that probe.”
Four years later, she is cancer free. And hasn’t needed another surgery.
Final approval of the MarginProbe expected later this year, when it will be available for use across the country.