ARLINGTON, Va. (WUSA9) -- Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington is one of only five hospitals in the country using the FDA approved Margin Probe intra-operative device. Margin Probe allows surgeons to immediately assess whether cancer is still present at the edges of a just-removed tumor while the patient is still in the operating room.
Dr. Stephanie Akbari, Medical Director of the Reinsch Pierce Family Center for Breast Health at VHC, told us, "One of the biggest frustrations for patients having lumpectomies is we don't know while they're asleep that their lumpectomy specimen is sufficient."
Dr. Stephanie Akbari believes Margin Probe is a game changer for treating early stage breast cancer.
"If you envision a lumpectomy as a piece of tissue like my fist...you would take the Margin Probe and put it on the edges all the way around the lumpectomy specimen," explained Akbari.
She continued, "If there is cancer on the edge, right then and there while the patient is still asleep in the operating room, we can take more tissue from that particular space so that we don't have a second surgery."
Before Margin Probe, surgeons would send tissue samples collected at the time of surgery to the lab for analysis. Getting results back could take 3 to 4 days.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 30 to 60 percent of early-stage breast cancer patients who undergo an initial lumpectomy will require a repeat surgery due to positive margins. The fear that surgery may not get all the cancer explains, in large part, the rise in the number of women opting for preventive double mastectomies.
But with the Margin Probe System detecting electromagnetic differences between breast cancer cells and normal breast tissue takes just about five minutes.
Dr. Akbari said, "I think that the more tools that we have to ensure that you've had an adequate cancer operation and not require a second one is beneficial to all patients."
Virginia Hospital Center has been using the Margin Probe system during lumpectomies for about a month. It's re-incision rate was already much lower than the national average -- only 10-15%. But Dr. Akbari says cutting that rate in half represents a huge number of women who'll benefit by avoiding a repeat surgery.
Even with Margin Probe, lumpectomy patients will still need radiation to further reduce their risk of recurrence.