Study shows surgical technique benefits breast cancer patients

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A breast cancer study could change the standard of care for patients.

A wife and mother of three, Diana Theriault was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer two years ago.

“You worry about everything,” she said. “You worry they didn’t catch everything and you worry about the process and what more you have to do.”

Fortunately for Theriault, she signed onto the SHAVE study at Yale Cancer Center. Lead investigator Dr. Anees Chagpar, Director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, was looking at improving the breast cancer surgery, commonly known as a lumpectomy, that most women like Diana would undergo.

“The problem is that no matter how well we try to do this operation, we try to get all the cancer out,” said Dr. Chagpar. “In about 20- to 40-percent of the cases, we can find cancer cells near the edge of the specimen.”

That can often require a second surgery. 

“How can we do this operation, which thousands of women have every year,be better?” said Dr. Chagpar.

In the study, surgeons were given specific instructions.

“Do what you would normally do as your very best operation, and then once they had done that, an envelope which was sealed was opened in the operation room,” said Dr. Chagpar.

They were advised to take a little more tissue around the edge of the tumor or continue as they would normally have done.

“With a very simple procedure that takes only minutes in an operating room, we can spare half the patients a return trip to the operating room,” said said Dr. Chagpar.

Doctors removed an extra layer of Theriault’s tumor. It worked. She is among those who did not return to the operating room.

“To not have to go in for a second surgery, it was huge because I already had to go through it, after that was chemotherapy, and after chemotherapy was radiation,” said Theriault. “It was a very long process. I can’t imagine adding a second surgery to that.”

Already, surgeons like Dr. Chagpar have adopted the new technique. The hope is that more of them will follow suit.

The result of the study was published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

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