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
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
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
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
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
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 www.cornwallhospital.ca for the
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.
www.cornwallhospitalfoundation.ca for more information on the
upcoming Radiothon and donate to the BSL project today.