Breast cancer tumours an be located by microscopic gas-filled spheres of silica developed by chemists, radiologists, and surgeons at the University of California, San Diego.
It could also reduce the need for second surgeries and minimize pre-surgical discomfort for patients.
Researchers created spheres of silica and filled them with perfluoropentane, a gas that has been used before in short-lived contrast materials for medical imaging.
"These little gas-filled microbubbles stick to human breast tissue for days and can be seen with ultrasound. If doctors placed them in early stage breast cancer, which is difficult to see during surgery, they could help surgeons remove all of it in the first operation," said William Trogler.
"Instead of just using a Geiger-counterlike device to say you're getting closer to the radioactive seed, you could actually see where to carve," said Andrew Kummel.
It could also help surgeons remove non-palpable tumours in a single operation, said Sarah Blair, a surgeon at Moores UCSD Cancer Center.
The find is reported in the forthcoming issue of the journal MedChemComm.