The UNM Cancer Center has a new device for examining breast cancer that is efficient while also offering patients an easier transition to surgery.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery Stephanie Fine said UNM is currently the only institution in New Mexico that has the SAVI SCOUT device, from Cianna Medical, which is FDA-approved but not commercially available until 2016.

“We kind of want to spread the word that we have first access to this device,” Fine said

According to the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH), breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in New Mexico, and the second leading cause of cancer death in that demographic. Each year an estimated 1,332 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in New Mexico and nearly 250 women will perish to it, according to the NMDOH.

The SAVI SCOUT is not a diagnostic technology, Fine said. Rather, its function is to localize a Stage One tumor that has already been found. Many women have Stage One breast cancers that are too small to actually notice at first.

“We know it’s there and we’re going to take it out with surgery,” Fine said. “If you can’t feel it, you have to have a way of finding it the morning of surgery.”

Surgery, in the case of smaller tumors, is a lumpectomy, she said, instead of a mastectomy.

Typically there are two ways of localizing a Stage One tumor, Fine said. The first is wire localization, where the radiologist will put a skinny wire into the breast. This wire has a marker and is left in at the time of biopsy “so we can find that area again.”

Fine said the second technique is called a “radioactive seed,” which can be placed in the breast up to seven days before surgery.

“You can schedule it, send the patient home, they come back to surgery and they go right into the operating room because there’s no other pre-procedure time they have to sign up for (like the wire),” she said

With the seed, there are still drawbacks, such as nuclear regulatory restrictions, which means the patient can’t be moved around to different facilities, in addition to other complexities. The SAVI is a better solution, Fine said.

“With this device, it does not involve radioactivity,” she said. “Its basically a little transmitter like you would see on a Target shoplifting tag, on merchandise.”

Fine said the transmitter, which is implanted in the breast, emits a signal to be located. This signal is picked up by the probe, increasing in frequency and volume as the probe approaches it.

“This localizes the cancer area, and we take it out,” she said. “There is no wire exiting out the woman’s breast, there is no delay in front of surgery.”

The new device also facilitates the scheduling process.

“You would like your day to go much more smoothly, as a patient: Have less trauma, have less anxiety about having two procedures the same day, rather than one,” Fine said. “From a surgery standpoint, we’re more efficient, we can get more work done, because we’re not waiting for all these different little parts to fall into place.”

She said that not every patient is a good candidate for the device, however, as some people need a bracketed lumpectomy, which necessitates the use of three wires to triangulate a more complex cancer location.

In addition, some patients have large enough breasts that it can be difficult to locate the device when it is embedded.

“We kind of have to watch the depth factor on that,” Fine said.

The UNM Cancer Center was given the device after they signed up to partner on a study with Cianna Medical, she said. Before it was even approved for use at UNM, the company had already reached its goal number of study centers.

“Therefore they said, ‘OK, great, we don’t need you for that part of it. But now that it’s FDA-approved, we’d like you to go ahead and be able to use it as soon as you would like to,’” she said. “We were very excited about just moving forward with something that makes everybody’s life easier.”

So far, three patients have used the device and feedback has been very positive, Fine said.

“We’re just happy to have something that, in our view, makes things better in a clear, measurable way,” she said.

Fine and her colleagues want to get the word out that the UNM Cancer Center is no stranger to progressive solutions and advancements in the field.

“We are a designated NCI Cancer Center, and we’re always interested in patients looking for new and innovative way to get treated,” she said.

Matthew Reisen is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at and on Twitter @DailyLobo.