Dr. Randy Martin: There is great news for many breast cancer patients. A study released in the February 23rd issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that some breast cancer patients may be able to avoid full removal of lymph notes and the complications of painful lymphedema that often follows. This video and following summary documents my discussion with William Barber, M.D., breast cancer surgeon at Piedmont Hospital about this ground-breaking study.
Patients having a lumpectomy (removal of a tumor and the zone of normal tissue around it) followed by radiation, particularly whole breast radiation, will no longer need full removal of the lymph node system under the arm.
Breast cancer surgeon William Barber, M.D., explains that typically the patient would have the sentinel lymph node removed and tested for cancer. In cases where the sentinel node showed evidence of cancer, the majority of the underarm lymph nodes would be removed. Undergoing this surgery can lead to arm swelling and some possible minor to moderate disabilities.
“According to this study, once the sentinel node is tested, it is possible that no further surgery would be required,” Dr. Barber said. The study was limited to women with relatively small tumors, no cancer elsewhere and no enlarged nodes that could be felt.
This is good news to 40,000 or more American women a year, 20 percent of breast cancer patients, who will be saved the additional surgery.