UK First for Breast Cancer Patients in Gateshead

Posted on Tue, 09/07/2019

Patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead are the first in the UK to undergo pioneering breast cancer surgery.

Around 700 women with breast cancer from Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and Durham, are diagnosed and treated every year at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust’s state-of-the-art breast unit.

Some tumours that are identified by mammogram and ultrasound need to be marked so that a surgeon can remove them. Current practice in Gateshead is to insert a thin wire into the breast, which is left visible until surgery has taken place. This can be uncomfortable for some patients and so the team is keen to find an alternative solution.   

Now, by implanting innovative radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which evolved from World War II radar systems, surgeons are guided to the exact location of tiny tumours that are too small to feel.

The size of a grain of rice, the tags, can be implanted up to 30 days before surgery by a radiologist during a straightforward outpatient appointment. They may be used to replace the current practice of inserting wires into the tumour on the day of the operation.  

The result is a more comfortable experience for patients, with less time spent in hospital. The tags are also radiation free - unlike some alternatives used by other NHS trusts.

The system, called Hologic LOCalizer RFID tag is used in America and Europe, but Gateshead is the first trust in the UK to trial the equipment with excellent feedback from patients and staff.

The Women’s Cancer Detection Society (WCDS) has launched a fundraising drive and is hoping to offer some support to the Trust to introduce this procedure following a successful trial. The South of Tyne League of Friends has also pledged support.

Dr Alice Leaver, clinical director and consultant breast radiologist, who championed the introduction of the LOCalizer, said:  “Our QE surgeons evaluated several alternative methods of identifying and marking the cancer at the time of surgery. The LOCalizer was the most appropriate, being both accurate and safe.

“The feedback has been fantastic, with patients feeling more relaxed when they come in for surgery compared to when they had to come in early to have the wires inserted and then wait for the operation to take place. 

“Around 700 women with breast cancer are diagnosed and treated every year at QE Gateshead and it is essential that they receive the best possible treatment.

“We are very grateful to our dedicated charity partners and their generous supporters who have made trialling this new procedure possible through their commitment to making a difference to patients with cancer.”

Kathryn Jobes, finance director, WCDS, said, “The WCDS is delighted to be associated with and pledges its support for this fantastic pioneering technology. 

“It will strive to increase its fundraising efforts to help raise the vital funds needed to make this project the success it undoubtedly deserves to be.”

To find out more or support the work of the Women’s Cancer Detection Society (WCDS) call 07793035674 or visit: 

“It is wonderful that women can have this treatment here in Gateshead.”

Among the first women to receive the treatment was grandmother, Andrea Rowell, from Lobley Hill, Gateshead. 

Andrea, 70, was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine screening appointment, which identified a tiny tumour that was too small to feel. 

Andrea, a retired senior care assistant, said: “I am a keen swimmer, lead an active life and had been feeling absolutely fine, so when I was diagnosed with cancer, it did come as a shock. 

“But my whole experience at Gateshead has been fantastic. When the doctors told me I was one of the first people in the UK to have surgery using this procedure, I thought they were kidding! It is wonderful that women can have this treatment here in Gateshead. 

“I was nervous enough as I was going in to have surgery and I think if I’d had to come in earlier in the day and have a wire implanted into my breast too, it would have made it a lot worse. 

“I am really pleased that this will now be offered to more women thanks to the support of the Women’s Cancer Detection Society (WCDS) and South Tyneside League of Friends and I will be organising events to raise money to help support this.

“I hope everyone who gets the chance will take up their screening appointments. My tumour was so tiny that I couldn’t feel it and thanks to screening and the surgery, I now have the best chance of beating cancer and getting back to enjoying time with my family.”

Breast screening at QE Gateshead

Breast screening has taken place in Gateshead for over 50 years:  initially as a charity screening service supported by the Women’s Cancer Detection Society (WCDS) and since 1988 as part of the NHS breast screening programme.

Gateshead's state-of-the-art breast unit currently deals with 6,500 symptomatic referrals and 30,000 routine screens every year for women living in Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Durham.

A large team including surgeons, radiologists, radiographers, pathologists, nurses, administrative and other staff work together to improve early diagnosis.

Every year over 54,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK and around 700 women were diagnosed and treated in 2018 at QE Gateshead.

Latest figures for 2017/18 show that 73.9% of women accepted their invitations for screening in Gateshead, meaning that over a quarter are not taking up the offer of the potentially life-saving tests. 

Find out more about breast screening here

 The tags featured on ITV Tyne Tees News. Watch their report here

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