Scientists develop tool to aid breast cancer surgery

Researchers have developed an optical fibre probe that distinguishes breast cancer tissue from normal tissue.

It is hoped that this could allow surgeons to be much more precise when removing breast cancer.

Scientists at the University of Adelaide, Australia, said the device could help prevent follow-up surgery, which is currently required for 15-20 per cent of breast cancer surgery patients where all the cancer is not removed.

They explained that the optical probe works by detecting the difference in pH between the two types of tissue.

Dr Erik Schartner, postdoctoral researcher at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at the University of Adelaide, said: “We have designed and tested a fibre-tip pH probe that has very high sensitivity for differentiating between healthy and cancerous tissue with an extremely simple - so far experimental - setup that is fully portable.”

He went on to explain that this method of measuring is highly cost-effective compared to other technologies, which should allow it to be widely adopted in operating theatres.

Current surgical techniques to remove cancer lack a reliable method to identify the tissue type during surgery, instead relying on the experience and judgement of the surgeon responsible to decide on how much tissue to remove.

However, surgeons therefore often perform ‘cavity shaving’, which can result in the removal of excessive healthy tissue. At other times, cancerous tissue can be left behind.

The optical fibre probe operates on the principle that cancer tissue has a more acidic environment than normal cells. This is because they produce more lactic acid as a byproduct of their aggressive growth.

According to the researchers, the pH indicator embedded in the tip of the optical probe will change the colour of the light emitted depending on the acidity.

Dr Schartner said surgeons can use the probe to test questionable tissue during surgery. If it shows that cells are cancerous, they can be removed then instead of relying on post-operative pathology testing to determine if they are.Image removed.