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A Safer Way to Track the Spread of Breast Cancer

Determining whether breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the armpits, called axillary lymph nodes (ALNs), is critical to breast cancer treatment and prognosis, according to David L. Morse, PhD, of Moffitt Cancer Center.  Yet the current method of detection, called sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy, fails to identify ALN metastases (i.e., secondary cancerous growths) in 5 to 10 percent of patients. Taking a biopsy means removing a piece of tissue for laboratory analysis. Complications after an SLN biopsy can include swelling (lymphedema), formation of clear-fluid pockets (seromas), sensory nerve injury, and limitations to the patient’s range of motion.

Dr. Morse is part of a team of researchers at Moffitt collaborating with colleagues at several other institutions to develop a noninvasive, more accurate test for lymph node involvement.

The team has developed targeted, fluorescent molecular imaging probes that detect metastases noninvasively by focusing on two markers present in ALN metastases but absent from normal tissue. The probes achieved great success both on mouse models of breast cancer tumors and on patient-donated samples.

The high accuracy rate of the new probes offers powerful potential for noninvasive staging of breast cancer, as well as the elimination of costly, often dangerous, and soon to be unnecessary surgery.


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