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Down Under   To prevent the need for follow-up surgery

Aussie researchers develop optical fibre to aid breast cancer surgery

Breast cancer surgeryAustralian researchers have created a pH-sensitive optical fiber which can distinguish breast cancer tissue from regular tissue in a development which could help surgeons perform better surgeries.

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The development could one day prevent the need for follow-up surgery, currently required by up to one in five breast cancer sufferers.

Dr Erik Schartner from the University of Adelaide said on Wednesday that his team's optical fiber works by detecting the different pH levels in the tissue, giving surgeons a better idea of where to cut.

The pH indicator in the tip of the optical fiber emits a different color of light depending on the acidity level of the tissue, while a miniature spectrometer analyses the light and therefore the pH level in real time.

"We have designed and tested a fiber-tip pH probe that has very high sensitivity for differentiating between healthy and cancerous tissue with an extremely simple -- so far experimental -- setup that is fully portable," Schartner said in a statement.

"If the readout shows the tissues are cancerous, that can immediately be removed. Presently this normally falls to post-operative pathology, which could mean further surgery."

"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."

Currently, surgeons rely on the unreliable method of their own judgments to decide how much breast tissue to remove around the cancer, but the researchers believe their new invention could allow surgeons to be much more precise, meaning more of each patient's breast tissue is saved.

"The (current process) is quite traumatic to the patient, and has been shown to have long-term detrimental effects on the patient's outcome," Schartner said.

The optical fiber technology is expected to be used in clinical trials in the "near future."


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