Tumour-spotting 'metal detector' helps spot whether cancer has spread

A device that has been compared to a metal detector might soon be used in the NHS to assist establish if a person's breast cancer has spread.

Surgeons can use Magtrace and Sentimag, a magnetic marker and detecting instrument, to locate malignant tissue.

They may eliminate the need for extensive surgery by allowing cancer to be removed without harming good tissue.

The technique is recommended in new draft advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to determine whether breast cancer has spread.

This is how it works:
  • Magtrace, a non-radioactive dark brown liquid, is injected into the tissue around a tumour
  • The particles are absorbed into the lymphatic syste
  • The Sentimag tool is moved over the skin emitting different pitch sounds as it passes over the Magtrace, like a metal detector finding metal in the ground
  • The affected nodes often appear dark brown or black
  • The surgeon makes a small incision to remove the node for biopsy and, if cancer is found, more nodes can be removed
There are certain adverse effects, such as skin discoloration, according to Nice, but research examined by the organization suggests the technique is as effective as usual procedure in identifying the spread of breast cancer.

Currently, nuclear medicine uses a radioactive isotope tracer and a blue dye dual method for detection.

Because Magtrace is not a radioactive chemical, it might be particularly useful for surgeons in hospitals with restricted access to a radiopharmacy department.

"People with breast cancer want to know if their cancer has been isolated or has spread to the rest of their body." said Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at Nice.

"Using the Magtrace technology is another option for surgeons who work in hospitals with limited or no access to radiopharmacy departments."

"The benefits of using this technology include the potential for more procedures to take place, reducing the reliance on radioactive isotopes shipped into the country and for less travel for people having a biopsy."

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: "We are always on the lookout for innovative treatments to speed up diagnosis and improve survival rates and we will outline more in our 10-Year Cancer Plan, due this summer."
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