A new laser surgery for breast cancer has just been approved for use in the UK. It leaves virtually no scars and needs only local anaesthetic.
Frances Barr, 69, a mother of two and a retired PA from Bristol, was one of the first women in Britain to have it as part of a trial, as she tells PAT HAGAN.
Frances Barr, 69, from Bristol was one of the first women in Britain to have a new laser surgery for breast cancer which has just been approved for use in the UK
Like all women aged over 50 in the UK, I am invited for breast cancer screening every three years.
It was during one of these mammograms in 2013 that a suspicious growth was found in my right breast. It wasn’t clear whether it was cancer, and I wasn’t unduly alarmed.
But I was referred to the Bristol Breast Care Centre and, a few weeks later, underwent a second mammogram, followed by a biopsy. When I was given the results just days later, I got a terrible shock.
The pea-sized growth was cancerous and I needed urgent treatment. It was devastating news. Luckily, my husband, Geoff, 79, was with me and was a tremendous comfort.
My consultant said I needed a lumpectomy to remove the tumour. This would involve an incision a couple of inches long and the removal of a small amount of surrounding ‘healthy’ tissue, too, in case any cancer cells had started to spread.
This would be followed by radiotherapy to destroy lingering cells. My lymph nodes (glands in the armpits where cancer cells often migrate) would be removed just in case.
However, as I was leaving my appointment, one of the nurses mentioned that the centre was about to start a trial for a treatment that could replace a lumpectomy in women who had relatively small tumours, of less than 20mm in diameter.
The retired PA, pictured, met cancer specialist Dr Mike Shere who explained the Novilase laser treatment trial would involve surgery with local anaesthetic instead of general anaesthetic
She arranged for me to meet cancer specialist Dr Mike Shere, who was overseeing the trial.
He explained that, instead of surgery with general anaesthetic, the new procedure used local anaesthetic. It involved inserting a fine, hollow needle through the breast tissue into the tumour. A probe would be fed through the needle and a hot laser beam would destroy the tumour.
The entire thing would take less than an hour and, afterwards, I’d be left with a tiny, barely visible puncture mark.
As I was one of the first people in the world to get the treatment, and doctors were still not sure if it would work, it would have been unethical for me to have it instead of a lumpectomy — as there was a danger it wouldn’t kill off all the cancer.
There are no major risks compared to a lumpectomy, but the Novilase laser treatment is currently not suitable for breast tumours bigger than 20mm in diameter.
Professor Philip Drew, a consultant breast surgeon at the Duchy Hospital in Truro, Cornwall, says the procedure could be particularly helpful for older women with small breast tumours who may be less able to withstand the current surgery.
But, he adds, ‘we need to be certain that the treatment gets rid of all the cancer: that’s the first question patients ask when they come round’.
I was told that I would have the laser treatment followed several weeks later by a lumpectomy, so doctors could see if the treatment had worked, as well as lymph node removal.
In November 2013, I had the Novilase procedure. Dr Shere first injected local anaesthetic into the front