This new tool may improve breast cancer surgery

Sydney, Dec 3 :Researchers have developed a new cost-effective and portable pH-sensitive optical fibre to distinguish breast cancer tissue from normal tissue, a finding that can potentially help surgeons to be much more precise when removing breast cancer.

The device could help prevent follow-up surgery, currently needed for 15-20 per cent of breast cancer surgery patients where all the cancer is not removed.

"We have designed and tested a fibre-tip pH probe that has very high sensitivity for differentiating between healthy and cancerous tissue with an extremely simple setup that is fully portable," said Erik Schartner, post-doctoral student at the University of Adelaide.

"Because it is cost-effective to do measurements in this manner compared to many other medical technologies, we see a clear scope for this technology in operating theaters," Schartner said.

Current surgical techniques to remove cancer lack a reliable method to identify the tissue type during surgery.

Because of this, surgeons often perform 'cavity shaving', which can result in the removal of excessive healthy tissue. And at other times, some cancerous tissue will be left behind, which is quite traumatic to the patient, the study said.

The new optical probe works by detecting the difference in pH between the two types of tissue.

Cancer tissues have a more acidic environment than normal cells and they produce more lactic acid as a byproduct of their aggressive growth.

The pH indicator embedded in the tip of the optical probe emits a different colour of light depending on the acidity.

A miniature spectrometer on the other end of the probe analyses the light as well as the pH and reveals that the tissue is cancerous, which can then be immediately removed.

The study was published in the journal Cancer Research.