North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is offering the new procedure to aid surgeons in identifying very small breast cancers prior to surgical removal.
North Tees Breast Screening Unit can identify cancers so small there is no lump or other visible sign.
Traditionally, a thin piece of metal wire was inserted into the breast on the day of the operation which the surgeon followed as a guide-line to the location of the tumour. The new process sees the guide-wire replaced with a tiny, radioactive iodine seed encased in a metal shell.
The seed, which emits a weak radioactive signal, is injected into the tumour by a breast radiologist and can be easily located by the surgeon using a special piece of theatre equipment that can detect the radioactive signal.
Consultant radiologist Dr Anuradha Anand said: “This is a real game-changer.
“The old procedure was uncomfortable and had to be fitted on the day of the operation when the patient is understandably stressed and nervous.
“But our new seed can be fitted up to two weeks before the operation with a simple injection. It’s painless, the radiation levels are extremely low and it allows more precise removal of the tumour.”
The technique has taken two-and-a-half years of extensive planning and training to bring to University Hospital of North Tees.
Consultant medical physicist Karen Whicker said: “Even though the seeds use an extremely low level of radiation, there are very strict guidelines in place.
“The whole team has undergone extensive training and learned about the safe handling of the seeds.
“The seeds themselves are stored in a bespoke, fire-proof safe and each one is returned to a licensed facility for safe disposal after removal.”
Consultant breast surgeon Matei Dordea commented: “We used chicken breasts in our training.
“We would test each other’s scanning skills by injecting a seed and seeing how accurately it could be located.”
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Hospital Foundation Trust is only the second in England to offer the Iodine seed technique.