Novel imaging technique may reduce lymphedema in breast cancer patients

December 11, 2010

SAN ANTONIO -- With guidance from a specialized scan, radiation oncologists at Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/) were able to reduce by 55 percent the number of lymph nodes critical for removing fluid from the arm that received damaging radiation doses.

VIDEO ALERT: Additional audio and video resources, including excerpts from an interview with Dr. Andrea Cheville and other researchers presenting at San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, are available on the Mayo Clinic News Blog (http://newsblog.mayoclinic.org/2010/12/06/lymphedema-study/). These materials also are subject to embargo, but may be accessed in advance by journalists for incorporation into stories. The password is sanantonio1.

The researchers report that integrating single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) with the computerized tomography (CT) scans utilized for breast cancer radiotherapy planning may offer patients substantial protection against lymphedema, an incurable, chronic swelling of tissue that results from damage to lymph nodes sustained during breast cancer radiation. The SPECT-CT scan pinpoints the precise locations of the lymph nodes that are critical for removing fluid from the arm, allowing physicians to block them, as much as possible, from X-ray beams delivered to the chest.

These findings were presented at the 33rd Annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

"In an effort to deliver therapeutic doses of radiation to the breast, lymph nodes under the arm are innocent bystanders that often are irrevocably harmed. Minimizing harm to these nodes during breast cancer treatment is the most effective way we have seen to reduce women's risk of developing lymphedema," says the study's lead investigator, Andrea Cheville, M.D., a consultant in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. (http://www.mayoclinic.org/rochester/), who specializes in lymphedema management.

"Lymphedema is a critical concern of breast cancer survivors, so developing a more individualized approach to irradiation is greatly needed," she adds.

This ongoing prospective cohort study includes 30 women with early-stage, low-risk breast cancer who had completed surgery to remove tumors and were scheduled for radiotherapy to the affected breast. These patients either had no lymph nodes that were known to be positive (meaning the cancer had not spread to these sites), or had only micrometastasis to lymph nodes. Thus, radiation to the lymph nodes in the armpit was not warranted in these patients.

The technique the researchers developed to shield lymph nodes from radiation involved merging SPECT scans with the CT images utilized in radiation treatment planning.

"We can know exactly where the critical lymph nodes are under the armpit," Dr. Cheville says, adding that critical nodes are the ones that drain the arm. "While a person can have as many as 62 lymph nodes under the arm, only a few are responsible for that function."

"We can use this information to personalize the fields of radiation such that the tumor bed in the breast is therapeutically treated while the lymph nodes that drain the arm are maximally blocked from radiation and thereby spared," she says.

The researchers created two treatment plans for each patient -- a standard plan and one adapted for lymph node sparing based on the SPECT-CT scans. When they compared lymph node radiation between the plans, they noted dramatic reductions in radiation to critical lymph nodes in the SPECT-CT-adapted plans.

Using the SPECT-CT images, the researchers identified all of the critical lymph nodes in the patients. They found that 65 percent of these nodes would have been located within the standard radiation treatment fields if they were not blocked.

They also found that among the 25 patients with at least one critical lymph node within the radiation treatment field, at least some blocking was possible for all of them. Researchers calculated that the number of lymph nodes receiving a moderate dose of radiation was reduced from 26 percent to 4 percent with blocking.

Because lymphedema development can take a matter of years, the researchers will continue to monitor these patients. No cases of lymphedema have yet been reported.

Dr. Cheville says that the technique of locating critical lymph nodes and blocking them from radiation may prove most useful for patients who require surgical removal of the lymph nodes in the armpit but do not require radiation targeting any remaining nodes. These patients' risk of developing lymphedema may be as high as 50 percent without blocking, and measures that preserve the function of their lymphatic systems may be critical to their long-term quality of life, she says.
-end-
The study was funded by the Department of Defense's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.

About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a non-profit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education for people from all walks of life. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org/about/ and www.mayoclinic.org/news.

Mayo Clinic

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.