Breast cancer is one of the most researched cancers around; because of this, new things are popping up about it all the time. On average, I google 'breast cancer' and look under news items every week. And in doing so, I found out that February this year the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York (one of North America's top cancer centres) released a study saying that for certain circumstances, full axillary dissection (ie removal of lymph nodes in the armpit area) was not necessary. This is quite groundbreaking; for almost fifty years it's been standard operating procedure that once the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (which mine has) a full axillary clearance is automatically done. However, this operation has its share of side-effects, the main one being lymphedema. Lymphedema is basically a swelling due to a blockage of the lymph passage, which can cause decreased flexibility, tightness, limb swelling etc. And I read somewhere that it occurs in nearly 25% of the breast cancer patients who have the dissection. Egad.
Needless to say, this is something that I'd rather not encounter, so if my breast cancer does not call for it, why do it? And based on the MSKCC study, I seem to fall under it.
I've spoken to my breast cancer surgeon about not doing the dissection. And although he was hesitant initially (we've always done it - but yes, a few years ago mastectomies were automatically done as well) he eventually agreed to it. But according to him, only because I'm on private healthcare, where monitoring is apparently better.
The funny thing is, once he agreed, I suddenly started to wonder if this is the right thing to do. So I've decided that I'm going for a second opinion. I've collated all my papers from both my oncologist and breast cancer surgeon and am sending them all to MSKCC, straight to the authors of the study. This is not going to be cheap; but you can't put a price on your health, can you?