October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and now there's new information that could save women a lot of pain and suffering after surgery. Usually, doctors take out all the lymph nodes under a woman's arm to see if the cancerous tumors have spread. Now, some doctors are saying it's only necessary to take out one node for testing. It's called sentinel node biopsy. Over the last few years, it's been studied at cancer centers across the country. Now that more research has been done on it, doctors here in the Heartland are trying it out.
Dr. Robert Hunt says, "It's important to detect where the nodes are that would first collect tumor cells. If you identify those nodes, that is the sentinel nodes, you can remove just those nodes." It's a fairly new method, but Dr. Hunt's been doing sentinel node biopsies regularly for the past six months. "I think we've reached the point with care, particularly with breast cancer and melanoma, that if we are sure we've arrived at the sentinel nodes and we are sure they don't contain a tumor, then there's a 95 percent chance the other lymph nodes will not have a tumor in them, " Dr. Hunt says. Some doctors aren't ready to accept the method until more research is done. At the same time, doctors who do accept it say saving the healthy lymph nodes could mean less pain for women. Dr. Hunt says, "If you can prove the sentinel nodes are negative, it's probably not necessary to remove the other lymph nodes and run the risk of swelling or infections in the arm, leg, or whatever part of the body's involved."