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A tool which has been likened to a metal detector could soon be used in the NHS to help determine whether a person’s breast cancer has spread.

Magtrace and Sentimag, a magnetic marker and detection tool, can help surgeons spot cancerous tissue.

They could help reduce the need for major surgery, as they allow cancer to be removed without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue.

New draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends the technology to establish whether breast cancer has spread.

This is how it works:

• Magtrace, a non-radioactive dark brown liquid, is injected into the tissue around a tumour
• The particles are absorbed into the lymphatic system
• The Sentimag tool is moved over the skin emitting different pitch sounds as it passes over the Magtrace, like a metal detector finding metal in the ground
• The affected nodes often appear dark brown or black
• The surgeon makes a small incision to remove the node for biopsy and, if cancer is found, more nodes can be removed

Nice said there are some side effects, including skin staining, but evidence seen by the organisation suggested the technology is as good as standard practice in detecting the spread of breast cancer.

Currently, detection relies on a radioactive isotope tracer and a blue dye dual technique – nuclear medicine.

The new technology could be particularly helpful for surgeons in hospital with limited access to a radiopharmacy department, as Magtrace is not a radioactive substance.

Magtrace costs about £226 per unit and the Sentimag probe costs £24,900 to purchase.

There are around 55,900 new breast cancer cases in the UK every year, that’s more than 150 every day, Cancer Research UK says.

Jeanette Kusel, acting director for MedTech and digital at Nice, said: “People with breast cancer want to know if their cancer has been isolated or has spread to the rest of their body.

“The earlier this is established, the better the potential outcomes will be.

“Using the Magtrace technology is another option for surgeons who work in hospitals with limited or no access to radiopharmacy departments.

“The benefits of using this technology include the potential for more procedures to take place, reducing the reliance on radioactive isotopes shipped into the country and for less travel for people having a biopsy.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are always on the lookout for innovative treatments to speed up diagnosis and improve survival rates and we will outline more in our 10-Year Cancer Plan, due this summer.”