Lymph Node Removal and What it Reveals
If you have been having symptoms, or have a cancer screen or medical examination that reveals a lump that could be a tumour, this is a very worrying time. Further tests will be done to find out exactly what the lump is and to find out what kind of treatment is likely to benefit you the most.
An important procedure in cancer diagnosis, whether it is for a breast lump, a suspicious mole or problems with urination that might indicate prostate cancer, is a biopsy. This is a small operation that will either remove the lump and a portion of normal looking tissue around it, or will remove a few cells or part of the tumour. This sample is then looked at under a microscope to find out exactly what types of cells are present.
Diagnostic BiopsyIt is commonly thought that cancer is either malignant – dangerous and prone to spreading to other parts of the body – or benign. A benign tumour does not invade other tissue and does not spread, although it can cause problems if it presses on important blood vessels, nerves of organs.
In fact, cancer is a wide spectrum of diseases and some cancers that are malignant are more dangerous than others. Part of the purpose of a biopsy is to find out if the cancer is very aggressive and likely to grow and spread quickly.
Removing the Cancer SurgicallyIf the biopsy was sufficient to remove the tumour and the surgeon and histologist are reasonably confident that the entire tumour has been removed, then you may not need another operation. In most cases, however, subsequent surgery is required to make sure all of the cancer cells have been removed.
Lymph Node RemovalFor many cancer operations, it is not enough for the surgeon just to remove the tumour itself. It is difficult to look at the tissue during surgery and find out anything useful. The margins of the tumour may not be clear and it is difficult to tell whether a cancer has started to spread. In order to find out as much information as possible during the operation, it is common for the lymph node nearest to the tumour to be removed and then to be examined under the microscope to see if it contains any cancer cells.
The lymph node nearest to the tumour is the place where lymph fluid from that lump passes first, so it is the most likely place to find any cancer cells that have started to spread. If the sentinel lymph node, as it is called, is to be found completely free of cancer cells, it is more or less certain that the cancer has been contained in the original tissue, and removing it entirely is likely to give a very good chance of survival.