Doctors using radio frequency chip to locate possible breast cancer during surgery

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 4:20 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 4:49 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Women facing surgery to remove possible breast cancer are being given a new option to make the process less painful and faster.

Surgeons are using technology similar to the microchips placed in keys or even our pets used locate them faster.

But now that kind of technology is being used to more easily pinpoint the location of what are often very small lesions or tumors in breast tissue.

Prevea Health breast surgeon Dr. Colette Salm-Schmid is undoubtedly excited at the latest technology she’s just beginning to use in the O.R.

“I use a special (device) at surgery where it just makes a beeping sound. It goes beep, beep, beep. Can you hear that?” she asks, demonstrating the radio-frequency LOCalizer.

It makes a high pitch squealing sound, almost like a dolphin as she holds a sensor over a tiny chip, resembling the way you’d use a metal detector.

Using ultrasound, a tiny chip, about two millimeters in size (about the thickness of a nickel), is inserted into the breast before surgery using a special probe.

The chip is placed at the location of what Dr. Salm Schmid says are often very small lesions, deep in tissue that she can’t otherwise feel or see.

For decades, doctors have used a needle and wire to mark the location, but now, during surgery, she can hold a sensor directly over the patient’s skin to pinpoint the precise location where she needs to operate.

“It’s kind of like saying cold, cold, cold, cold, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot,” explains Dr. Salm-Schmid. “So a needle... I just have to, in my mind, be able to visualize how the needle is going into the breast in 3D. This is much more precise. This is like a little homing device.”

It comes with what she calls a long list of benefits.

“The studies have shown that it’s 30 percent less painful,” says Dr. Salm-Schmid. “Faster to place, less painful to place, don’t have to do it on the day of surgery.”

She learned about the device at a conference a few years ago, but, just like so many other changes in the medical field, COVID prompted her to do more research and begin using it now.

“Right now, with the hospital being as busy as it is with COVID, it’s important that I’m as efficient as possible, so it really pushed us to do something different.”

The distinct tone from that radio-frequency chip speeds up surgery, shaving off a few minutes from each procedure, which adds up, allowing her to operate on more people in one day.

“Unfortunately it’s also because we’re so busy, and I think it’s because we have patients who missed mammograms during COVID that we’re so busy that I needed to be as efficient as I can so I can see more patients and operate more,” she adds.

Dr. Salm-Schmid says she’s concerned about misinformation with this kind of new technology, but she stresses the chip is removed during surgery and can’t be used to track a person like you would a pet, for example.

The company’s website also says the chip is meant to be anti-migratory so it shouldn’t move around the body before surgery, and each chip has a unique identification associated with it.

Dr. Salm-Schmid is eager to begin using the technology more frequently with patients starting in December.

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