VCU Massey first in Va. to use tech that saves breast cancer patient’s lymph nodes

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 11:14 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 12, 2021 at 10:35 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Doctors at VCU Massey Cancer Center are excited about a new piece of technology for those battling breast cancer. It’s being used to help pre-invasive breast cancer patients keep their lymph nodes.

The cancer center is the first in Virginia to use the FDA-approved dye called Magtrace allowing surgeons to keep lymph nodes intact for many Stage 0 breast cancer patients.

Typically, early-stage breast cancer patients have their lymph nodes removed during a mastectomy or lumpectomy to prevent cancer from spreading, but that often leads to painful fluid buildup in the arms called lymphedema.

Now, VCU Massey Cancer Center is using Magtrace technology to prevent removing lymph nodes in the first place.

“We’re going to scan to see if we can hear some signal in the nodes, and you can see right there in the lady’s armpit we can hear a signal,” explained Dr. Kandace McGuire, M.D., Chief of Breast Surgery at the cancer center.

A wand-like device essentially locates a paramagnetic dye, made of iron oxide nanoparticles, that was injected into a breast cancer patient during surgery. This has been done during a mastectomy procedure in the past.

“We wait for our pathology; if we have invasive cancer where we need to check lymph nodes, we go back. If we have DCIS, we never touch the lymph nodes,” McGuire said.

Roughly 20% of all breast cancer cases are DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) or Stage 0 breast cancer. It’s only diagnosed through a mammogram; a lump will not be felt.

“I was diagnosed very early, and it was caught very early,” said Laura Bateman, a breast cancer patient who used the Magtrace technology.

Because of that early screening, Bateman became eligible for this procedure.

“When Dr. McGuire mentioned this technology that she’s had some success with and it would obviate the need to take lymph nodes - I was like yes, sign me up,” she said.

The Magtrace dye essentially buys doctors more time to review the pathology since it stays in the system for roughly 4-6 weeks. It also carries less risk as there is no evidence of allergic reaction or necrosis, which can happen when other types of dye are used.

Unlike older dyes, there is no time to get the pathology report before the dye leaves the lymph nodes, according to McGuire.

“If you remove the breast and find out later that the patient has invasive cancer, you can’t go back and do this minimally invasive procedure later,” she added.

Doctors believe Magtrace is a game-changer instead of just removing sentinel lymph nodes right away. Those are the cells most likely for cancer to spread to. While removing the sentinel nodes reduces the risk of lymphedema to 5-17%, McGuire said it’s an unnecessary risk.

“The one thing you can do to treat lymphedema, to cure lymphedema, is to have it never happen,” she added.

According to a study involving 189 women living in Sweden with Stage 0 breast cancer, this new technology allowed roughly 80% of the patients to avoid sentinel node biopsies, according to VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Only seven months after her operation, Bateman is back to the grind in large part due to this new technology.

“I’m feeling so great, frankly I don’t think I’ve really missed a beat,” she said. “In fact, I’ve picked up the beat. I was walking three miles, two days after surgery. It’s great, I feel wonderful, and I feel so, so lucky.”

“I’ve done this particular delayed sentinel lymph node biopsy procedure on 11 patients and only had to take back one,” McGuire said.

When Magtrace is used, there is the chance for skin discoloration, where the dye is visible through the skin for a period of time.

Meanwhile, doctors and patients emphasize the importance of early screenings and monitoring your health.

For more information about Magtrace at VCU Massey Cancer Center, click here.

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