Project details

Researcher: Miss Karina Cox

Location: Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust

Project title: Assess the ease and reliability of a special ultrasound-guided procedure to detect cancer cells in the lymph nodes


The challenge

Around 55,000 people are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year in the UK. Surgery to remove the cancer in the breast and at least some lymph nodes from the armpit is the standard of care because we don’t have accurate ways to examine the lymph nodes without removing and checking some of them. If we had accurate less invasive ways to tell if breast cancer is in the lymph nodes, people could possibly avoid surgery to the armpit and any problems related to it, such as infection, bleeding and arm swelling.

The science behind the project

Advances in ultrasound technology, may offer new ways to check if breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit. Miss Karina Cox will look at whether a special ultrasound technique can be used in clinics to guide needle biopsy and check for any signs of breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes.

This technique uses tiny bubbles that are injected into the breast and can be seen on an ultrasound scan. These can be then be followed into the armpit to find the lymph nodes. Biopsies are then taken to see if these lymph nodes have any traces of cancer.

It is important that specialists can easily and reliably perform this procedure regularly in the breast clinic. Ten imaging specialists from five UK breast centres will be trained to use this new procedure. After training, 25 patients who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer will have their lymph nodes checked with this new technique.

If the procedure is easy to use and can successfully find cancer cells in the lymph nodes, a clinical trial will be designed to test it further. This trial would then look at whether the new ultrasound method could replace surgical removal of armpit sentinel lymph nodes and ensure it doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer coming back.


What difference will this project make?

Currently, surgery is needed to accurately tell if breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit. However, it can lead to complications such as infection and arm swelling, and  less invasive techniques are needed. This special type of ultrasound can offer a new way to identify cancer in the lymph nodes and, in the future, could help some breast cancer patients avoid armpit surgery altogether.


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