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Combination of SPECT and CT scans could offer protection against lymphedema in breast cancer patients

September 23, 2015

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.

The study was funded by the Department of Defense's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.

Source: Mayo Clinic