Just 10 more minutes in surgery could halve the number of breast cancer patients returning to the operating theatre.

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Breast cancer is a traumatic experience with many hurdles, including surgery that is often long, invasive and painful – and which some women will have to undergo multiple times if the disease remains.

A renowned US doctor believes that a simple change in the treatment could halve the number of women who require surgery a second time.

Speaking at the world’s biggest cancer conference in Chicago this week, Dr Anees Chagpar of the Yale Cancer Centre said that an extra 10 minutes in the operating theatre to take a little more tissue could reduce the need for further surgery by half. Incredible, right?

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According to Dr Chagpar, at least 20 per cent of breast cancer patients in the US and UK require second operations after tests on the lump which was removed show the presence of cancer on its margins.

Given that over 15,000 Australian women are expected to be diagnosed each year, this has the potential to make a significant difference.

Dr Chagpar’s findings are based on a new study that tested cavity shaving (removing a thin slice of tissue around the edges of the tumour) as a way to reduce the risk of further surgery. Turns out that when more tissue was taken the first time, the amount of people needing further surgery fell to 10 per cent. (Post continues after gallery.)

“No-one likes going back to the operating room, especially not the patients who face the emotional burden of another surgery,” she said.

“With a very simple technique of taking a little more tissue at the first operation, that doesn’t require any fancy technology, that takes an extra 10 minutes in the operating room, we can reduce the chances that somebody would need to go back a second time by 50 per cent. That’s a big deal.”

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In the study of 235 patients published in the New England Journal of Medicine, all had the usual surgery but half were randomly assigned to get the extra cavity shave. Researchers found there was no difference in how the women in the groups felt about their appearance of their breasts after surgery.

However Dr Susan Fraser, advisor to Cancer Council Australia and breast care physician says it’s not always necessary for extra tissue to be taken during breast cancer surgery to avoid the need for follow-up operations.


“There are a number of actions that breast cancer surgeons can take prior to surgery, during the operation and after the excision has occurred to increase the accuracy of their surgery, as well as minimise the need for follow-up treatment,” she says. (Post continues after gallery.)

“Prior to the operation, surgeons will usually get high quality images of the tumour they are operating on to make sure they know exactly where the boundary of the tumours are and can carefully plan the operation.”

“During the surgery itself, it’s also often possible to use imaging, such as X-rays and ultrasounds, to check that the excision has removed as much of the tumour as possible, and if appropriate take more tissue from the margin of the excision,” she explains.

“Lastly, after surgery has taken place, patients will usually referred onto a multidisciplinary care team for follow-up treatment, for instance radiotherapy or chemotherapy, to help eliminate any remaining microscopic cancer cells.”

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While anything that can help minimise the physical and emotional impact on breast cancer patients should be embraced, it’s important to remember the study is still in its early stages.

“We don’t know if removal of further breast tissue around a tumour in this way would reduce rates of recurrence within the breast,” Samia al Qadhi, chief executive at Breast Cancer UK told The Telegraph.

“This additional important information will be gained from the five year follow up of patients within the study and we look forward to hearing the results,” she said.

Allison Snare was just 24 years-old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a bilateral mastectomy and before reconstructive surgery, Allison did a photoshoot with photographer Bruce Moyle as a way to mark the end of a tough chapter in her life. These are the pictures.

Do you think the change to surgery is the way forward? Have you or someone you know battled breast cancer?