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Scientists Makes Strides Against Melanoma

Posted: July 23, 2007

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If undetected or left untreated, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs or brain. The first sign that melanoma has spread, or metastasized, usually is the appearance of cancer cells in the body's lymph nodes. Part of the body's defense system, the nodes produce lymph, which travels throughout the body and filters out impurities.

In the past, doctors fighting melanoma would remove many or all of the body's lymph nodes to help prevent the spread of the cancer. But the experimental sentinel node biopsy technique allows doctors to remove only a few lymph nodes directly affected by the melanoma.

In the procedure, a radioactive substance is injected near the melanoma and its progress through the body is tracked. The first lymph nodes to take up the substance are called the sentinel lymph nodes.

Since the cancer is most likely to head to those lymph nodes first, only those nodes are surgically removed for testing. If positive, the rest of the lymph nodes are tested and removed. But if negative, the patient avoids what can be a painful procedure.

Sentinel node biopsy has been around for about two decades, but new studies have shown that its use can give patients a better fighting chance against metastasized melanoma.