Researchers report that doctors might preserve the axillary (armpit) lymph nodes of some breast cancer patients through use of radioactive probe.
Doctors would use the probe to identify the “sentinel,” or first lymph node that could potentially have become infected by a breast tumor. After identifying this node, doctors would test it to determine if the cancer has spread. If the node is found to be non-cancerous, study authors argue that removal or testing of other axillary lymph nodes is unnecessary and can be avoided.
Avoiding removal of the axillary lymph nodes would eliminate the arm swelling and lengthened hospital stays that can result from their removal. Currently, axillary lymph nodes are frequently removed as a matter of course, whether or not they are cancerous. “Today we seem to be on the threshold of a development that may allow axillary dissection to be foregone in a large percentage of patients,” read the study.
Researchers at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan Italy used the radioactive probe to correctly identify the sentinel nodes in 99% of 376 breast cancer patients. The presence or absence of cancer in the sentinel node predicted the presence or absence of cancer in the other axillary lymph nodes in 97% of the study participants.