Doctors have a “go to” move when it comes to breast cancer. It could be the wrong one. What’s the move? They immediately remove cancerous lymph nodes from the patient’s armpits. It can be painful and debilitating.
So why do they do it? Doctors say it will prolong their lives.
Now, there’s mounting evidence that many removals are unnecessary. In fact, removing lymph nodes could do more harm than good.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer. It could be you… or someone you love. And the doctor will likely push for the node removal surgery.
But the surgery could impair your ability to function physically.
A Woman’s Worst Nightmare
Dr. Peter Blumencranz is the director of Morton Plant Hospital’s Comprehensive Breast Care Center based in Clearwater, Florida. He’s also a Fellow of the Society of Surgical Oncology and the American College of Surgeons. And he’s an American College of Surgeons Approved Instructor in Stereotactic Breast Biopsy.
He says women who have the nodes removed could develop a condition called “lymphedema.” It’s swelling of the arm – a permanent disfigurement. These women are also more susceptible to infections. They have painful sensations. And fluid settles in their armpits.
Imagine enduring pain each time you put on a sweater… No longer having the range of motion to throw a baseball back and forth with your child or reach items on the top shelf… Or being unable to wear your wedding ring.
The pain and swelling can be unbearable… and there is no cure.
Still, most doctors are uneasy about leaving behind cancerous lymph nodes. So the surgeries continue.
Why is a pointless procedure so common? NHD is uncovering the story, layer by layer.
To Remove or Not to Remove
Lymph nodes are small glands that help the body fight infection and disease. They filter the lymph fluid and contain white blood cells.
If cancer spreads to the sentinel nodes (those closest to the tumor), the surgeon will want to remove others as well. It’s standard practice.
Doctors used to remove the nodes from all breast cancer patients. These days, they do the procedure only when the sentinel nodes are positive.
Dr. Armando E. Giuliano’s study led to the latest breakthrough. He’s the chief of surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. He’s also a leading authority on breast cancer surgery. He’s written over 400 articles and chapters on the topic. This study was commissioned by the National Cancer Institute.
Giuliano and his team followed nearly 900 patients for six years. The median age was 50 years old. All of them had surgery. All had radiation. Most had chemotherapy. And half had their lymph nodes removed.
The results? No significant difference in the recurrence of cancer or overall survival between the two groups.
And here’s the worst part… Patients who had the extra nodes removed had more complications from surgery. Those included infections, swelling, and lymphedema.
The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The news is turning the medical community on its ear.
New Questions About Old Methods
In the 1990s, researchers began questioning the wisdom of removing lymph nodes. That led to another recent study. It found that 82.2 percent of women who had all the nodes removed were alive and in remission five years later. So were 83.9 percent who didn’t have the nodes removed. No significant difference.
“Removing the cancerous lymph nodes proved unnecessary because the women in the study had chemotherapy and radiation, which probably wiped out any disease in the nodes,” reported The New York Times. “Those treatments are now standard for women with breast cancer in the lymph nodes.”
Some medical centers are already trying to reduce lymph node removal. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan is one of them.
Dr. Monica Morrow is a surgical oncologist there. She’s the surgical editor of the textbook Diseases of the Breast and a co-author of Breast Cancer for Dummies. She currently serves as vice president of the Society of Surgical Oncology.
Dr. Morrow co-authored the study. She thinks it will change how many doctors do business. Her current research interest is how treatment choices for breast cancer surgery are made.
In a CNN interview, she said that skipping the lymph node surgery only applies to women having a lumpectomy and radiation instead of mastectomy.
If that’s your situation, it’s something you should discuss with your doctor.
Dr. Peter Blumencranz is another co-author of the study.
“We had trouble recruiting patients for the study because surgeons were uncomfortable with the idea of not taking the nodes,” says Dr. Blumencranz. “What we were asking them to do was radical.”
But in the CNN interview, Dr. Morrow noted that, after six years, recurrence takes place in only about one percent of the women who have the surgery.
“We’re not leaving cancer cells behind, we’re just treating them in a different way than with surgery,” she said. “We’re killing them with radiation. We’re killing them with drugs.”
Morrow acknowledges the concerns of some doctors, but says the study supports earlier findings.
“Change is definitely hard, but I think this is not a finding in isolation. We’ve learned that we can do less surgery in the breast itself, substituting lumpectomy and radiation for mastectomy as a routine. And this is just the next step in that evolution. As drug therapy gets better, surgery can get smaller.”
All-Natural, Side-Effect Free Alternatives
A lot of questions remain. Women have to be careful when deciding which road to take.
The bottom line is that mainstream medicine is making little headway in the battle against breast cancer. Surgery has become a quick fix. Millions of women are suffering because of it.
This despite billions of dollars that have been spent on research and treatment. You start to wonder… Where has all the money gone?
Plenty of research points to lifestyle changes as solutions for cancer. Both for prevention and cure. Exercise is always a good place to start. (But be sure to consult your doctor before starting any rigorous exercise program – especially if you’re already battling the disease. Moderation is the key.)
You can take action against cancer naturally. For instance, you can eat lots of cancer-fighting foods. Berries are known to have high amounts of antioxidants. Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, and raspberries are some of the best.
You can also look into supplements and all-natural treatments to help you stave off cancer and live longer. Yesterday, for instance, I covered a common Christmas decoration that’s showing promise in extending the lives of breast cancer patients. If you missed it, you can read it here now.
The sooner you make these changes, the better for your health – and peace of mind.
Of course, lifestyle changes are not the only advancements being made in the war against cancer. A few pioneering doctors are making progress toward finding new treatments – and even cures.
To your best health,
Managing Editor, NHD “Health Watch”