LONDON, Ont. -- It’s called a photoacoustic hand-held device, and it could one day make a huge difference for breast cancer patients undergoing breast conserving surgery.

Breast conserving surgery is when surgeons remove the cancerous tumour only and not the whole breast.

“We want to see if during breast conserving surgery there is any residual cancer tissue is left behind,” explains PhD student Elina Rascevska

Currently when surgeons remove the cancerous tumour it’s sent to pathology to make sure all cancerous tissue is removed, but this process can take time and isn’t always one hundred per cent accurate.

Scientists believe the hand-held photoacoustic device can examine the cancerous tumour and tissue in real-time by using optical imaging and ultrasound.

“This will give surgeons the opportunity to scan around the surgical cavity to make sure all the cancer tissue is removed,” Rascevska says.

Surgical oncologist and Lawson Health Research Institute scientist Dr. Muriel Brackstone explains the way the procedure is currently done.

“At the time of surgery we can often localize and use image guidance to tell us where the tumour is but not so much where the edge is of the cancer end.”

Brackstone says currently approximately 20 per cent of patients who undergo breast conserving surgery will come back for a secondary procedure, but she believes the new device could change that.

“Developing a tool that can actually interrogate the tissues or answer for us whether there is any residual cancer left is really important clinically because it means it can avoid a second operation for patients which can delay their other treatment like chemotherapy and radiation.”

Currently the scientific team has created a prototype of the photoacoustic device. The next steps moving forward will be to use it in a clinical trial with the hopes it will eventually be used regularly as a surgical tool.