Health & Wellness

What’s New in Cancer Care

We’re still a long way from beating cancer, but scientists are gaining ground in many areas. Over the next few weeks, we’ll highlight some of the recent advances in cancer care.

By Wendy Haaf

Photo: iStock/Ridofranz.

Less Invasive Diagnostic Tools

Canadian women diagnosed with endometrial or cervical cancer will soon have less chance of experiencing complications and lasting side effects from the procedure done to help doctors determine whether additional radiation or chemotherapy will be needed after treatment.

“Traditionally, we’ve done lymphadenectomies—we take out the lymph nodes around the big blood vessels in the pelvis and around the aorta, the biggest blood vessel in the body,” explains Dr. Jacob McGee, a gynecologic oncologist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry in London, ON. “The purpose behind that is to gain information about the spread of the tumour and what we call ‘stage.’”

This extensive procedure carries a risk for complications such as bleeding, blood vessel injury, infection, and permanent swelling in the legs due to fluid buildup. In one study, 23 per cent of women who’d undergone the procedure developed some degree of potentially debilitating swelling.

However, this year, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology of Canada is recommending a shift away from this method of evaluating endometrial and cervical cancers.

“Now we can obtain the information we need from a less invasive procedure called a sentinel lymph node biopsy,” McGee explains, “and we’ll be releasing a position paper suggesting that this now become the preferred method of assessment.”

A much more targeted procedure that involves injecting dye to identify which lymph nodes should be examined, sentinel lymph node biopsy “is going to allow for better staging of cancer patients because we’re going to be taking out the right nodes.”

Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer, with an estimated 4,400 cases diagnosed in 2016; roughly 1,500 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in the same year.