Tracking breast cancer with less pain

By Karen Abernathy - bio | email

This year, 182,000 women in this country will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

For many breast cancer patients, the key to stopping the spread of cancer is to remove the lymph nodes where the cancer has spread.  But finding those cancerous lymph nodes can be a very painful process.

A clinical trial at Louisiana State University's Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, is testing a less painful way to stop the spread of cancer. Brenda Savoy is part of the clinical trial. She said the journey from diagnosis to treatment has been an emotional one.

"I got very depressed and cried for about two weeks, and then after that I got strong," Savoy said.

Doctors wanted to make sure the disease hasn't spread to the lymph nodes, the first place cancer may go. Traditionally, that means injecting a radioactive tracer while the patient is awake. Brenda had the traditional treatment.

"The injection was very, very painful and very uncomfortable."

That's why doctors at LSU are looking for alternative therapies. Dr. Eugene Woltering, MD, is a Professor of Surgery and Neuroscience at LSU's Health Sciences Center.  He says his patients inspired him to find another way.

"This was described to me by some of my women patients as equally painful as having a child. And I said, 'Now wait a minute, you can't have something be that painful and have women want to come back and do this again if they have another lump ever again,'" Dr. Woltering said.

Doctor Woltering developed a new radioactive blue dye that is injected painlessly under anesthesia. In surgery, the new radioactive dye lights up hard-to-see lymph nodes that are likely to be cancerous.

"The lymph nodes define the spread of the tumor. They help stage the tumor."

In a study, the new dye worked just as well as the older version -- minus the pain. Doctor Woltering said another benefit, besides reduced pain, is that the new procedure exposes patients and the medical team to one-third less radiation than the older technique.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.