Big news in the world of breast cancer. A University of Vermont researcher has just published the largest ever breast cancer surgery study in the world. The study focuses on a procedure called the sentinel node biopsy and was pioneered by UVM surgeon Dr. David Krag.
Missy Kraus will never forget the darkness and fear she felt 10 years ago when she was told she had early stage breast cancer. She was asked to participate in a research study at UVM on the sentinel node biopsy, a less invasive procedure than traditional methods to determine if cancer has spread beyond the breast. What should she do? A native New Yorker, she fled to Mount Sinai Medical Center where she believed doctors there knew best.
"I'll never forget him laughing and saying that I was crazy. I was in precisely the right place with the most experience. That this technology had been pioneered in Vermont, and I was extraordinarily fortunate to be where I was -- absolutely I should participate in the study," Kraus said.
So she did, and she ended up being part of the largest-ever breast cancer surgery study in the world. With 56 hundred patients at 80 different institutions in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The results have just been published in the prestigious oncology journal, Lancet.
"It's a big deal. Yeah it's a big deal that it's finally coming to complete closure," said Dr. David Krag. Dr. Krag pioneered the sentinel node biopsy. His work originally began with melanoma patients, before his 10 year study with breast cancer patients began in 1998. "Of all the newly diagnosed women with breast cancer about two thirds roughly have negative nodes. The cancer will not have spread detectably to the lymph nodes and it's that group of women that we've tested," he said.
Traditional surgery used to call for the removal of all lymph nodes underneath a woman's arm to check for signs of cancer, whether it was an early or advanced case. And that came with significant lifelong side effects including nerve damage, chronic swelling, infection, and loss of mobility. Dr. Krag's procedure removes just the sentinel nodes, the first set of lymph nodes that cancer spreads to, so it's less invasive, has no side effects and according to the study's results, has equivalent survival rates at the old method.
"You know you get goose bumps. If you can take some of the stress away of this terrible disease it's just fantastic. And every time I do one of these procedures, even though I've done it for so many years, to be able to make a tiny incision, just this little thing and go way down and very, very accurately take out one or two lymph nodes instead of this radical procedure -- it's just like a new time every time I do it," Dr. Krag said.
In fact, Dr. Krag's procedure has now become standard practice in patients all around the world. And here in Vermont, survivors like Missy Kraus are grateful.