September 14, 2011

The surgery breast cancer
victims must avoid

Women with breast cancer always fear having the cancer spread to their lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs in your armpit (and elsewhere in your body). They act as filters, removing cancer from lymph fluid before it goes into your bloodstream. If you have cancer in the lymph nodes under your arm, you have an increased risk of the cancer spreading.

As a result, most cancer surgeons conduct radical lymph node dissection – removing the lymph nodes. This lets the surgeon come back and tell the victim “we got it all.” The problem is that the surgery leaves her with painful, disfiguring, and dysfunctional lymphedema. It also increases your risk for infection. But that’s not all. A new study found that this draconian procedure makes no difference in survival or reoccurrence.

The study looked at 891 breast cancer patients. The researchers looked at survival rates of those who had their nodes removed (445 patients) and those who did not (446 patients). After six years, the researchers found almost no difference in the survival rates of both groups (91.8% to 92.5% respectively).

Based on this study, the New York Times said, “Experts say that the new findings, combined with similar ones from earlier studies, should change medical practice for many patients. Some centers have already acted on the new information ... But more widespread change may take time, experts say, because the belief in removing nodes is so deeply ingrained.”

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I agree. This barbarian “treatment” needs to disappear. But it’s not happening. It is “so deeply ingrained” that some states like California still mandate this surgery for treating cancer.

If you have breast cancer, please don’t allow your surgeon to do a radical lymph node dissection. If the cancer has made it to your lymph nodes, chances are quite high that it’s elsewhere, and the horrific lymph node dissection will likely do you no good in the long run.

I’m not against a sentinel node biopsy (single lymph node) for staging purposes, as it can give the doctor important information about your cancer without radical dissection. But tell your surgeon in writing that you don’t want the lymph nodes removed.

Ref: FDA, January 2011, “Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL) In Women with Breast Implants: Preliminary FDA Findings and Analyses,” January 2011; JAMA, February 9, 2011;305(6):569-75; New York Times, February 8, 2011.

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