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MountainView Hospital testing a new way to treat cervical, uterine cancers

MountainView Hospital is participating in a clinical trial that could change the way women with cervical and uterine cancer are treated.

The hospital at 3100 N. Tenaya Way in Las Vegas is one of four sites — along with hospitals in Indiana, Michigan and North Carolina — that will take part in a new “Firefly” clinical trial.

The goal of the study is to discover whether it is possible to treat cervical or uterine cancer by removing only sentinel lymph nodes, those believed to directly spread the disease.

Currently, doctors remove all of the lymph nodes in a patient’s affected area. As a result, some patients suffer lymphedema, which causes swelling in the legs that makes it difficult for a person to perform everyday activities.

The hope is that by removing fewer lymph nodes, patients will have fewer complications and shorter surgeries. That, in turn, will improve the quality of life for patients and save them medical costs.

“Complications are probably the most expensive thing we pay for in our health care system,” said Dr. Lynn Kowalski, who specializes in gynecologic oncology and is part of the study. “The shorter surgery is, the less expensive it is.”

The practice of removing sentinel lymph nodes to treat cancer isn’t a new concept. It is used in the treatment of breast cancer and melanoma, a form of skin cancer.

But applying it to gynecology is more complicated. Radioactive dyes are required to show affected areas, but the dyes aren’t allowed in operating rooms.

That’s where the Firefly technology comes into play.

Instead of using radioactive dyes and a Geiger counter to find sentinel lymph nodes, doctors instead use a fluorescent dye that turns cancerous lymph nodes a vibrant green when viewed with Firefly Fluorescence Imaging Software. Nonaffected lymph nodes show up as other colors, including gray, yellow and pink.

“It’s like a road map,” Kowalski said. “It’s very easy to see.”

For now, doctors still remove all of the lymph nodes, but the Firefly dye will help them separate affected nodes from nonaffected ones. That will give them a chance to see the differences between the two to determine if removing only the sentinel lymph nodes can be an effective form of treatment.

“We’re participating in a state-of-the-art research opportunity that directly impacts patients.” Kowalski said. “If it’s validated, this is the way we’re going to do.”

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