Mayo Clinic Doctors Plant the Seeds of Success in Cancer Surgery

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Mayo Clinic physicians are using tiny radioactive “seeds” to identify, treat, and remove cancerous lesions before they become life threatening.

Radioactive Seed Localization

RSL (radioactive seed localization) is a safe, accurate, and effective technique.

A new technique combines advanced radiologic imaging with precise tumor localization to remove a cancer in its entirety and with minimal disturbance to surrounding organs – a downside to the way surgery is currently being done. As reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Surgical Radiology, surgeons and radiologists at the Mayo Clinic have collaborated on an approach that uses tiny radioactive seeds implanted at the time of diagnosis. Surgeons can then use a handheld radiation detector (gamma probe) to precisely locate these seeds at the time of surgery and thereby remove the cancer safely and effectively, virtually eliminating damage to tissues and organs near the affected area.

“RSL (radioactive seed localization) is a safe, accurate, and effective technique,” according to Dr. James Jakub, the senior author of the study and a surgeon at Mayo Clinic. “RSL has the potential to be adapted to most lesions amenable to a percutaneous (under the skin) approach.”

This exciting advance in technology can be applied to a wide variety of cancers. For example, metastatic melanoma deposits scattered throughout the body can be identified by imaging studies and seeds implanted via CT-guided or ultrasound-guided techniques. Surgeons can then precisely locate these tumor deposits and remove them without significantly disturbing nearby vital structures.

Radioactive seed localization is also a flexible technology. It can be completed at the same time that other imaging studies are done. Surgeons then have up to five days to identify these seeds and excise the tumor. The radiation dose from the seeds is so negligible that surgeons removing the tumor need no extra protective covering.

The early results of the study demonstrate complete destruction of the metastasized tissues with no mortality and only two minor postsurgical infections. The scheduling of the placement of the seed need not be done on the same day as the PET and/or CT scans are performed, thereby maximizing convenience to the patient without sacrificing clinical outcome.

Radioactive seed localization offers the potential to change the way we treat complex tumors due to their safety, convenience to the patient, the relatively low dose of radiation administered, and success in excising the entire affected tissue.

This study was published in the Journal of Surgical Radiology, a peer-reviewed medical journal distributed to over 11,000 surgeons and radiologists around the world. Physicians and surgeons from major medical centers around the country serve on the journal’s Editorial Board. Their expertise provides an authoritative validation of peer-reviewed scientific research that makes an important contribution to patient care. Learn more about this study and other medical advances at


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Sapan Desai, MD, PhD

Sapan Desai, MD, PhD
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