After being diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ or Stage 0 breast cancer) at the end of 2021, Mitzi Barhorst of Waterford began researching the best options for her care.

Her research led her to the breast health team at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport and in May, she became the first patient in Connecticut to use Magtrace during her treatment.

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Magtrace is a magnetic liquid that is injected at the time of a mastectomy or surgical removal of a breast. Magtrace mimics how cancer cells spread and helps to determine if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This magnetic liquid can stay in the body for weeks at a time. Prior to Magtrace, liquid dyes were used to determine to which lymph nodes the cancer may have spread, but these dyes were not retained beyond 24 hours.

For patients with DCIS who undergo a mastectomy, the standard of care is to perform a sentinel lymph node procedure, or removal of selected lymph nodes, in case an invasive cancer was discovered at the time of surgery. Otherwise, these patients might need another surgical procedure to remove all the axillary lymph nodes which presents more potential risk.

Now, by using Magtrace, the sentinel lymph node biopsy does not need to be performed at the time of a mastectomy. Since Magtrace stays in the lymph nodes, a sentinel lymph node procedure can be performed if needed after the mastectomy when the final pathology is available.

“We do not know if the cancer has spread beyond the milk ducts and therefore potentially to the lymph nodes until we do surgery which is why we typically remove a few lymph nodes at the time of the mastectomy,” said Valerie Brutus, MD, breast surgeon at St. Vincent’s. “Removing lymph nodes after a mastectomy is challenging and is not as accurate. Magtrace allows us to perform the mastectomy, wait for the pathology and then go back to remove the lymph nodes at a later date if necessary.”

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A possible complication from any lymph node biopsy is lymphedema or swelling in the arm. Lymphedema can cause pain and a restricted range of motion and often requires occupational therapy and the use of garments to control swelling.

For Barhorst, the cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes and she avoided having them removed.

“It was a real blessing that it all worked out,” Barhorst said. “In talking to others, I believe that my recovery has been much quicker and better.”

Dr. Brutus believes Magtrace is a “game-changer” for patients with Stage 0 breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 51,000 people will be diagnosed with DCIS in 2022.

“The biggest benefit is we can avoid a procedure and avoid potential complications or side effects,” Dr. Brutus explained. “Any time we don’t need to perform a procedure, the patient does not need to recover from that procedure. This will have a great impact on patient care.”

Barhorst is now cancer free and has plans to travel with her husband Ron. The experience has left her feeling thankful for the advances in breast cancer care.

“I feel so blessed,” she said. “I hope Magtrace is available for other people so that they have this ability to not have lymph nodes removed.”