Sentinel lymph node biopsies helping local breast cancer patients

Sentinel lymph node biopsies helping local breast cancer patients

Breast cancer treatment can be devastating - from losing a breast or both - to losing the range of motion in your arms. But there is a procedure offered locally that can remove the first area cancer cells spread and protect a woman's ability to move freely.

Last fall, 71-year-old Selma Fontenot was told that she had breast cancer.  "That word is just horrible, no matter what, " she said, "I just had one thing in mind and that was getting rid of it and going on with my life."

The lump was small when Selma was sent to surgeon, Dr. Stephen Castleberry, at West Calcasieu-Cameron Hospital.  When a needle biopsy confirmed the cancer diagnosis, Dr. Castleberry immediately looked to the lymph nodes - the place cancer cells are most likely to spread.  "The traditional method has been axillary lymph node dissection," he said, "that involves removal of about 10 or 20 lymph nodes under the arm."

That procedure can leave a woman with swelling under her arm, numbness and the inability to lift. The other alternative is called a "sentinel lymph node biopsy."

Dr. Castleberry says that method is far less invasive.  "The sentinel lymph node biopsy allows us to check the first one or two lymph nodes draining the breast itself to determine if there's cancer," he said.

Sentinel lymph node biopsies are typically for patients with stage one or stage two breast cancer, who have no swelling in the lymph nodes.  "It allows us to limit the pain after surgery, gets them back to full activity faster, limits the risk of arm numbness and decreases the risk of arm swelling significantly," said Dr. Castleberry.

Here's how the sentinel lymph node removal process happened for Selma: a dye was injected near her tumor.  Next, Dr. Castleberry used a probe to follow the tracer, pinpointing the node's location.

Finally, a half-inch incision was made in the skin and the node was taken out.  "I can honestly say I never had any pain," she said.

Radiation was also part of Selma's treatment, that has left her cancer-free today and back to the things she loves.  "Everything!" she said, "I never stop! Grandchildren, I have to run back and forth to school with them and I'm always busy!"

Sentinel lymph node biopsies are most common with breast cancer and melanoma, but is being studied with several other cancer treatments, including colorectal, gastric and thyroid.

If you have breast cancer and are looking for more information on treatments and some encouragement along the way, West Cal-Cam Hospital now has a support group called "Pink Crusade."  It meets every third Wednesday at Dynamic Dimensions in Sulphur.  For more information, call WCCH at 527-7034.

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