Improving Breast Cancer Treatment

Project Overview: 

Dr. Aaron Fenster, co-Chief Scientific Officer of CIMTEC, in a collaboration between the Robarts Research Institute and CIMTEC, has invented a three-dimensional ultrasound system with a mechanism to integrate the images produced with the trajectory of needles. The goal of the project is to make the use of radiation seeds in breast cancer treatments more efficient and accurate.

Need or Opportunity: 

Breast cancer exacts a toll – physically, emotionally and financially. Breast cancer treatment shouldn’t. But for the 66-70% of patients who receive radiation therapy, the current protocol of 25 daily sessions over four weeks means patients are away from work, often without pay, and apart from their families and support system if they have to travel to a major city for their radiation. The difficulty of these barriers mean some patients may decide to forgo radiation.

Radiation therapy is also a significant cost to the healthcare system. It costs $4900-$6300 per patient to administer radiation, a cost of more than $9 million each year.

Using radiation seeds, which are implanted once and release radiation over time, could go a long way toward reducing the costs, both personal and system-wide, of radiation therapy. Such seeds are already being used to treat prostate cancer and in at least one breast cancer treatment centre in Kelowna, British Columbia. However, because the breast is a more mobile tissue than the prostate, the procedure requires a level of expertise that many radiation oncologists don’t have.


Dr. Fenster, working with CIMTEC, invented a three-dimensional ultrasound that can be used to image the breast more accurately than the existing two-dimensional modality. He then created a mechanism to integrate the image with sites for injecting the radiation seeds, so providing both the imaging and the guidance necessary to administer the seeds. The result will be an imaging and guidance system that can be used by all radiation oncologists wherever they are, removing some of the stresses of radiation therapy and significant savings for the healthcare system.


Dr. Fenster’s lab has just finished testing the imaging and guidance system on a simulated breast and found that it was accurate to within 2 mm. CIMTEC is now assisting him to get Health Canada approval for an Investigational Test Authorization (ITA), required to move to testing in humans.

The BC-based radiation oncologist who is using radiation seeds has also been testing the system on simulated breasts. Her feedback will help modify the system to make it optimally configured for clinical use.

CIMTEC and Dr. Fenster are in discussions about whether to license this technology to other companies or create a spin-off company.

This work is funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.