Sentinel node biopsy and breast cancer

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
March 28, 2008 3:56:40 PM PDT
There is an important test to help women determine if breast cancer has spread.But it turns out that a lot of patients are never even offered the test.

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

The test can prevent a lifetime of problems after breast cancer surgery. It's called sentinel node biopsy. The American Cancer Society studied how much this test was used and who used it between 1998 and 2005. The report finds that some groups of women got tested less frequently than others.

Anne Grant and Ivis Febus-Sampayo are both breast cancer survivors and work at SHARE, a breast cancer support group. During their cancer surgeries, doctors took out lymph nodes from their armpits as well. The result for both was arm swelling called lymphedema, which elastic sleeves keep under control.

Anne's started right after her surgery.

"I felt heat," she said. "I felt my arm and my side were heavy, and there was pain."

Both women had cancer before sentinel node biopsy was available, which might have spared them the lymphedema problem. Though sentinel node biopsy is standard now, the new report says some women are not getting it.

"Women of lower socio-economic class, women who do not have private insurance and women who were non-white were less likely to receive sentinel node biopsies," said Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum Smith, of St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is done at the time of surgery to remove the cancerous lump.

Doctors inject a dye in the breast area, which marks the sentinel node, the first in the chain under the arm. Surgeons remove and check that node for cancer cells. If none are found, the other nodes are left in place.

If the node is cancerous, others are removed.

If the sentinel node does not contain cancer cells, theres a 96 percent chance that the others will not have cancer cells.

It's not clear why certain groups of women don't get the biopsy. What is clear to Ivis is that women should have it now.

"It's something important that women can have the sentinel node biopsy," she sid. "It's very important that every woman have that option."

The good news is that despite the discrepancy among the economic and ethnic groups in the study, the numbers of patients who got the test doubled during the time of the study.

For more information about breast cancer and the study, visit and The American Cancer Society.

SHARE can also be reached at 212-719-0364. The toll-free state ovarian hotline can be reached at 866-53-SHARE.