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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 05:45 GMT 06:45 UK
Breast cancer biopsy 'cuts pain'
Mammogram examination
Breast cancer is the most common form of the disease for UK women
A new biopsy technique for breast cancer has a recovery time of two days instead of the usual five, according to research at Cardiff University.

Trial results show removing only the affected lymph nodes from under an arm reduced recovery times by three days.

But Professor Robert Mansel, from Cardiff University, who developed the treatment said he was disappointed at how it had been taken up in the UK.

He said only 30 cancer units, and only one in Wales, had adopted it.

Some 20,000 women in the UK are expected to benefit from the treatment. Early results suggest patients have the same survival rates as women undergoing the previous operation where all nodes were removed whether affected or not.

Once the patients realise that the new operation is so much better they are going to start asking for it
Prof Robert Mansel

Those women who had the new style of biopsy saw a 70% reduction in arm swelling and a 60% reduction in pain, according to Prof Mansel.

The procedure involves using a dye and a small dose of radioactivity to locate and examine the main gland, called the sentinel node, that drains directly from the tumour.

If the gland is clear, as it is in around 75% of patients with screen-detected cancer, there is no need to remove the other 20-30 nodes.

'Initial trials'

Previously as a way of combating the spread of cancer, doctors would remove all the glands known as lymph nodes from under the arm. But this often led to permanent arm swelling and numbness.

The Department of Health has funded Professor Mansel to roll out training in the new technique across the UK after successful initial trials.

Breast cancer screening
Training hospital staff in the new technique is underway

Professor Mansel said: "It will mean a great improvement in quality of life, three fewer days in a hospital bed for each patient and will be much cheaper, at around only 30 per patient for the isotope and dye used in the procedure.

"Once the patients realise that the new operation is so much better they are going to start asking for it.

"I'm sorry to say at the moment that only about 30 units in the whole of the UK are actually doing this full time or routinely, and in Wales only here at the University Hospital of Wales is it being done routinely.

"In America, where it was first invented it' s being used almost universally now, although they have not done as much training as we have.

Common cancer

"It's also used in Europe, so it's really the UK that's lagging behind a bit. It's vital it's made available rapidly.

"It's like when mastectomy changed to removing the lump alone, it's that sort of magnitude of effect."

In the UK, the lifetime risk for breast cancer in women is one in nine.

It is the most common cancer affecting women in the UK, with more than 38,000 new cases each year.

Liz Carroll, of the charity Breast Cancer Care, said the technique had geat potential to reduce dramatically the number of people who have to undergo unnecessary surgery.

"It is excellent that research is being translated into clinical practice so quickly, though it should be remembered that it will take time to train surgeons so that they can perform this very specialised procedure."

Dr Sarah Rawlings, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: "Women we talk to are very concerned to know whether their breast cancer has spread or not but the removal of lymph nodes can sometimes be extremely debilitating.

"Any technique that is less invasive and provides an accurate answer will be welcomed by women with breast cancer."

"Only about 30 units in the UK are doing this full time"

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27 Apr 04 |  Scotland
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16 Apr 04 |  Scotland
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02 Feb 04 |  North East Wales


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