main hospital building at night


Behind the Scenes: Radioactive seeds will help surgeons pinpoint breast cancer tumours at CCH


For over 30 years, radiologists and breast surgeons have used a procedure known as wire localization (WLP) in order to locate and remove cancerous breast tissue and nonpalpable tumours.

Nonpalpable tumours can't be found or felt during an exam, but they can be identified through ultrasounds or mammography.

WLP has long been the main method of nonpalpable breast cancer localization used at most hospitals, including here at Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH). Patients require a wire to be inserted into their breast tissue hours before surgery, which can sometimes be uncomfortable. The wire marks where the surgeon has to remove tissue.

However, beginning this fall, CCH will be introducing breast seed localization (BSL), which has emerged as a reliable and safe alternative to wire localization. CCH will be one of few hospitals in Canada to offer BSL to patients.

With this procedure, a radiologist injects a small radioactive seed (about the size of a sesame seed) into the patient’s breast tissue up to five days before surgery. Unlike wire localization, the patient cannot feel the seed once it’s in place and can return home comfortably until surgery.

The seed is coated in titanium, and the total exposure to radiation from the seed is about the same as a standard mammogram.

During the surgery, the surgeon uses a handheld device that detects radioactivity to more precisely identify the location of the tumour containing the seed. The seed is safely removed along with the tissue during surgery.

The surgeon is able to more accurately plan the surgical incision as the radioactive seed allows them to determine the precise location of the tumour and its exact size, meaning fewer re-operations and improved cancer outcomes.

Inspired by her own mother’s journey with breast cancer, Dr. Sahar Shirazi is a general surgeon at CCH who achieved her fellowship in breast surgical oncology and oncoplasty from the University of Ottawa’s School of Medicine. Dr. Shirazi introduced the idea of using radioactive seeds here at CCH following her positive experiences using BSL for nonpalpable tumour removal procedures at the Ottawa Hospital.

In early 2021, Dr. Shirazi introduced breast reconstruction surgery for cancer patients at CCH, and now she will be pioneering another local first in BSL.

“Radioactive breast seed localizations will provide more comfort and convenience for patients, and more precision and flexibility for surgeons. It’s an impressive feat for a community hospital to offer BSL,” explains Dr. Shirazi.

A truly remarkable accomplishment by our CCH Team, we are ready to go live with BSL this fall, almost exactly a year after the idea was originally proposed by Dr. Shirazi, changing the way in which our imaging and surgery teams work with one another.

“We all know someone who has been impacted by breast cancer. It was important for us to see this through for the community. It’s going to be a game changer for our patients,” explains Jennifer Barkley, Director of Diagnostic Services and BSL project lead.

More information on when CCH will be going live with BSL will be coming soon. Be sure to follow us online or visit our website at for the latest updates.

This project also wouldn’t be possible without the great work of our Cornwall Community Hospital Foundation, who are helping to raise funds to purchase the equipment needed for BSL, and you can help. The Corus Caring Hearts Radiothon is taking place on August 25, with funds raised going towards the surgical technology required for this project.

Visit for more information on the upcoming Radiothon and donate to the BSL project today.