There are more than 15 million cancer survivors in the United States, and that number is expected to jump to more than 20 million by 2026, according to the National Cancer Institute. Over the past 25 years, death from cancer in the US has decreased by 26%.
Advances in cancer testing, including the sentinel lymph node biopsy, play a significant role in the improvements in cancer survival rates. At Candela and Schreier Medical Corporation, our fellowship-trained oncologists, Dr. Frank Candela and Dr. David Schreier, offer this diagnostic test, which provides valuable information about your cancer and the type of treatment best suited for you.
We want to share with you the benefits of the sentinel lymph node biopsy and how it makes your cancer treatment more effective.
The connection between lymph nodes and cancer
Your lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system and play an important role supporting your immune health. This system of nodes, vessels, and fluid clear your body of waste, bacteria, viruses, and abnormal cells — like cancer cells — to help you fight against illness and disease.
More specifically, the lymph nodes produce immune cells that destroy these harmful cells. In some cases, the lymph nodes work so hard at destroying the disease-causing cells that they swell. So when you’re battling a strep infection, the lymph nodes in your throat become swollen, and it’s not uncommon for lymph nodes to swell when they’re fighting cancer cells.
Though cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease or other lymphonas can start in the lymph nodes, in most cases, any cancer cells found in the lymph nodes are cells that traveled from a different tumor elsewhere in your body. Finding cancer in your lymph nodes will change your stage of cancer and affect your treatment options.
The lymph node closest to your primary source of cancer is the lymph node most likely to contain the traveling cancer cells. This lymph node is referred to as the “sentinel” lymph node.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy
The sentinel lymph node biopsy is a surgical procedure that involves removal and testing of the first lymph node that drains the area where a tumor located. Finding tumor cells in this node indicates that a cancer has spread. If your sentinel lymph node biopsy is negative, then it’s very likely your cancer has not spread. If, however, the biopsy is positive, it may mean that your cancer has spread to your lymph nodes and possibly other areas.
At Candela and Schreier Medical Corporation, we perform sentinel lymph node biopsies for breast cancer, melanoma, and other specific tumor types. To find the sentinel lymph nodes, we use a diagnostic tool referred to as lymphoscintigraphy, which introduces a small amount of radioactive material into your lymph system to identify the lymph nodes closest to your primary tumor.
During the procedure, our surgeons evaluate and remove the sentinel lymph node. If there are clear indications that the lymph node contains cancer cells, additional lymph nodes may be removed during the biopsy procedure.
Your cancer treatment
Knowing whether or not your primary cancer tumor has spread to other areas of your body plays a significant role in determining the type of treatment you need to support your fight against cancer. Traditionally, breast cancer treatment involved the removal of the tumor, along with axillary lymph nodes, which are a group of 20-30 lymph nodes found near your armpit. Though this surgery decreased risk of a recurrence of breast cancer, it also increased risk of lymphedema (gathering of excess fluid in and around the arm and armpit), was painful, and could limit the mobility of the affected shoulder.
With the sentinel lymph node biopsy, you get the benefits without less risks. Removing only one or two nodes provides sufficient data to properly stage your cancer, which is essential for determining your best treatment options.
Though there is still room for improvement when it comes to cancer treatment, the sentinel lymph node biopsy provides you with a more targeted treatment plan for your cancer with fewer side effects and similar outcomes.
To schedule a consultation with the surgical experts at Candela and Schreier Medical Corporation, call one of the offices in West Hills or Thousand Oaks, California, or request an appointment online today.