Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Last summer, Sharon Herring-Turner had cancer removed from her breast, along with 25 lymph nodes under her arm.
Unfortunately, this left her with some arm swelling. She has to wrap it at night and wear a compression sleeve when she’s active. And she’s had other problems as well.
“It’s still kind of numb,” she said. “And I still have pain from that area, and this goes from here, all the way down to my fingers.”
Just like weeds can spread along their roots, cancer cells can spread through the breast tissue drainage channels, called the lymphatic system.
So doctors remove the lymph nodes and look at them under the microscope for any signs of cancer.
“These are the lymph nodes that are under the arm and thought to collect all the drainage from the breast, including the drainage from the tumor,” explains Dr Shivani Duggal, a breast surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital.
The lymph nodes are little beads that line the immune system’s own special circulation. Many are located in the armpit. They act as filters or traps for particles, cancer cells and other harmful microscopic matter.
But take all, or just some? While more thorough, taking them all increases the risk of complications.
A less drastic approach is to remove the first lymph nodes in the chain. These are called sentinel nodes. If no cancer is found, removing the other lymph nodes isn’t necessary.
A locally led 10-year study of more than 5,000 women compared taking all or just the sentinel nodes.
“It is the largest surgical randomized prospective clinical trial, phase clinical trial performed,” Dr. Duggal says enthusiastically.
Turns out, sentinel node resection is just as good in terms of survival and recurrence.
This is reassuring to many women.
“Most of them say, hey if I can get away with not having a full traditional surgery, I’d love that,” says Dr. Duggal.
But even having issues after the more extensive surgery, Herring-Turner doesn’t let it slow her down.
“When you have breast cancer, or cancer period, you should continue your normal routine. Don’t stop doing what you’re doing,” she says.