Breakthrough For Breast Cancer Patients

Published: July 12, 2006 | 4453rd good news item since 2003

For years, breast cancer patients had to have many lymph nodes removed from under the arm.

It was the only way to tell if the cancer had spread, but it often leaves women with painful and long term side effects.

Recent data now shows removing just one or two nodes is not only highly accurate in determining if cancer has spread , but it also drastically cuts risk of long term side effects.

Debbie Dilliplane, 42, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

She went for a routine mammogram and wasn’t worried; she had no lumps, no family history, no symptoms.

But as technicians took more and more images of her breast she started to get uneasy.

“I asked the doctor, ‘Exactly what are you seeing? I’ve been here quite a long time.’ I could tell the look on her face. She said she was disturbed by what she was seeing,” said Dilliplane.

She had surgery and luckily doesn’t need any follow up treatment.

She was also lucky, because she didn’t have all her lymph nodes removed.

For years standard procedure has been to remove as many as 20 lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread.

Dr. Ahrandt says, “The lymph nodes are under the arm and when the breast cancer spreads it tends to spread from breast to lymph node area.”

Many women have more side effects from the lymph node removal than from the actual breast surgery.

“A large number of women will have permanent numbness on the back of the arm and around the incision. One in 5 will develop something called lymphodema, which is swelling of the arm or hand,” said Ahrandt.

But now a non-invasive procedure can spare women those problems.

It’s called a sentinal node biopsy.

The sentinal node is the main lymph node under the arm which cancer spreads to first.

Now doctors can isolate that node by injecting a dye into the breast.

The tracer travels through the breast and sticks to the sentinel node. Then only that node is removed.

Ahrandt says, “If those lymph nodes show no evidence of cancer we know with a high degree of accuracy that all the other nodes are cancer free. If we find a trace of cancer in the sentinel node that’s telling us we should explore the remaining lymph nodes.”

Dilliplane has full use of her arm and almost no chance of developing painful lymphodema.

She’s feeling great and very lucky.

Setninel node biopsy can’t be done on all breast cancer patients.

It is most commonly used in women in early stages.

Published in Science & Technology
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