Breast cancer

03 July 2017

New microscope may help remove complete breast tumour

The device may help avoid repeat surgeries to remove cancer cells that were missed the first time.

Up to 40% of women with breast cancer must undergo repeat procedures to remove cancerous cells that were missed during the first operation. This is due to a lack of  three-dimensional data.

But now a team of mechanical engineers and pathologists have invented a microscope that could potentially assist surgeons to remove breast tumours completely.

The microscope, developed by scientists and engineers at the University of Washington

Health24 previously reported that in some women with breast cancer, taking soy protein supplements boosted the expression of tumour genes associated with an increase in tumour cells.

When removing a breast tumour, known as a lumpectomy, surgeons attempt to remove the cancer but spare as much healthy tissue as possible. But it may take several days after surgery before lab results reveal if the lumpectomy was successful or if additional surgery is needed to remove cancerous cells that were missed, the study's authors explained.

Part of the tumour left behind

"Surgeons are sort of flying blind during these breast-conserving surgeries. Oftentimes they've left some tumour behind which they don't know about until a few days later when the pathologist finds it," said mechanical engineering professor Jonathan Liu in a university news release.

"If we can rapidly image the entire surface or margin of the excised tissue during the procedure, we can tell them if they still have tumour left in the body or not. And that would be a huge benefit to cancer patients."

The newly designed microscope uses a sheet of light to visually "slice" through and image a tissue sample without destroying any of it. This ensures all the tissue is preserved for further testing, which can help doctors learn more about the cancer and determine the best course of treatment, according to the study published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Microscopic precision

"If we can do this without consuming any tissue, so much the better," said co-author Dr Larry True, a professor of pathology at UW Medicine. "We want to use that valuable tissue for purposes which are becoming ever more important for treating patients such as sequencing the tumour cells and finding genetic abnormalities that we can target with specific drugs and other precision medicine techniques."

"The tools we use in pathology have changed little over the past century," said study co-author Dr Nicholas Reder, chief resident and clinical research fellow in UW Medicine's Department of Pathology in the news release.

"This light-sheet microscope represents a major advance for pathology and cancer patients, allowing us to examine tissue in minutes rather than days and to view it in three dimensions instead of two, which will ultimately lead to improved clinical care."

Read more:

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Allergies lower brain tumour risk

Cancer therapy named breakthrough of the year


Ask the Expert

Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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