New Delhi: In a pivotal finding in breast cancer surgery research a painful procedure that requires removing all the lymph nodes of a patient may not be necessary at all.
Gurmeet Ajit Singh, 47, was diagnosed with breast cancer on the right side in September 2009. Her doctor was able to perform a procedure on her that was less invasive and saved her from painful after effects like pain in the shoulder, decreased sensation in the arm and chest and swelling of the arm that ranges from mild to disabling.
"I was very worried. I am an artist and painting is my life. I was lucky that my lymph nodes weren't removed," says Gurmeet.
Senior Consultant of Surgical Oncology at Apollo Hospital, Dr Ramesh Sarin, says Gurmeet's detection at stage one meant she was able to perform a minimally invasive procedure while treating the cancer. The procedure meant that she did not remove all the lymph nodes from Gurmeet's underarms.
Most doctors prefer removing all the lymph nodes, believing that by doing so they are reducing the chances of cancer returning. But now a new study published in the journal of the American Medical Association has countered this.
They studied a large number of patients and found that survival rates after five years are nearly the same in breast cancer patients who had 17 lymph nodes removed, compared to those who had just two nodes removed.
"The reason why they're still not practicing in India in all major cancer centres is because it requires nuclear medicine, trained pathologists and also needs organisation by the surgeon," says Dr Sarin.
But the procedure only works if the tumour is a minor one.
One lakh women are diagnosed with breast cancer in India every year and this new procedure should change the way they are treated in future. Empowered with the knowledge, these patients should now demand the treatment from their doctors.