Facing breast cancer for the second time, Melbourne resident Jodie Talone was understandably worried.
But advances in medical technology have hopefully put her on the road to recovery.
In an Australian first, radar technology has guided surgeons at Epworth Richmond straight to her tumour.
The SCOUT radar system helps surgeons find tumours with millimetre accuracy.
Traditionally, a radiologist inserts a wire into the tumour on the morning of breast cancer surgery. Once in theatre, the surgeon uses the wire to locate and remove the tumour.
Having to undergo two procedures on the day of surgery can add to a patient’s stress levels and may lead to a delay with the operation.
Specialist breast cancer surgeon Dr Chantel Thornton said using the wire localisation was not an option with Ms Talone.
“Jodie’s cancer was just underneath the muscle, underneath the collarbone, so when you insert the locating wire, as soon as you lift the area to remove the tumour, the wire falls out and you lose your place,” she said.
Instead, a reflector the size of a grain of rice was inserted into the tumour two days before surgery, reducing Ms Talone’s stress on the day of the operation.
A radar probe was then used in theatre to guide Dr Thornton to within one millimetre of the cancer, allowing the tumour and the probe to be safely removed.
The ability to precisely locate tumours increases the probability of complete cancer removal and reduces the amount of healthy tissue that is removed.
Dr Thornton said in this case, the radar technology – which was funded by donations to the Epworth Medical Foundation – made it much safer.
“It was a very tricky area, close to the axillary vein which goes to the neck and supplies blood to the arm,” she said.
“It’s also close to a lot of nerves for the arm, so being extremely accurate in locating the tumour is vital.
“Without the SCOUT probe, it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, as the cancerous lymph node was only 4mm wide.
“There’s no point taking a patient into theatre if you can’t safely locate the cancer.”
Ms Talone said her medical team told her that without the use of the radar technology, this type of surgery posed a greater risk.
“I was told, without the guidance of the radar technology, there was a risk of nicking a vein to my right arm, which is my dominant arm,” she said.
“It could have left me without the ability to move my arm, which would have had significant consequences for my family and working life.
“Instead, the surgery was a day procedure and I was back at work the next day.”
Blood tests and MRI scans did not show any sign of her cancer, which was picked up as a small speck on an ultrasound taken of her biopsy.
With the assistance of the SCOUT radar, surgery removed all of the tumour.
Ms Talone has had radiotherapy and is now undergoing chemotherapy as part of her treatment.