MedWatch: Lighting Up Cancer

There’s a new kind of technology lighting up certain kinds of cancers at Munson Medical Center.

Michelle Dunaway explains how it’s saving lives, shortening surgeries and lessening complications for some patients in this week’s MedWatch report.

“Animals have always spoken to me and I always want to be in their care. This has been the right choice for me, profession wise,” says Patti Tuck, D.V.M. veterinarian.

Patti spends her days treating patients of the four-legged variety, but it wasn’t long ago she was the one seeking treatment.

Her doctor found a tumor on her uterus.

“We didn’t really have the diagnosis until after I had my hysterectomy and they had my tissue. And it was uterine cancer, which is usually confined to the uterus, but in my case it wasn’t. It has escaped and gotten into the lymph nodes, so I had stage 3 uterine cancer,” explains Patti.

Patti did what she could to keep her life and career on track, but toward the end of chemo, she had to take a step back.

“That was really a tough day for me, because that was so much a part of my psyche of winning, but our staff was wonderful and even when I couldn’t come into work, I would come into work because of the camaraderie and the joking, and this is really a family kind of setting here and I needed that,” says Patti.

While Patti had her support system, her surgeon, Dr. David Michelin had his own assistant: the da Vinci robot.

He does nearly 200 robotic procedures a year on patients with endometrial or cervical cancers.

“The da Vinci technology is a vast advancement compared to typical laparoscopy, in terms of advancement. The instruments have what we call wrists and even fingers on them, so they really mimic an open procedure,” explains Dr. Michelin.

The da Vinci itself has been around since about 2005, but Munson Medical Center recently upgraded to the newest model with special capabilities to help doctors find sentinel nodes.

“There’s lymph nodes scattered throughout the body, but a sentinel lymph node is thought to be the first drainage point from the organ. So in our case, the uterus or the cervix, the sentinel node would be the first drainage point in that organ,” says Dr. Michelin.

Dr. Michelin injects a special dye into the cervix.

“With the new robot we’re able to switch the background to the near infrared spectrum, and so the background is either gray or black, but the lymph node lights up neon green. You don’t have to be a physician to see that that’s the sentinel lymph node,” explains Dr. Michelin.

In the past, doctors played more of a guessing game, taking up to 30 lymph nodes out of a patient.

“We become more selective and more sensitive in terms of what we do. We can select one positive lymph node on each side and then along the aorta, take three lymph nodes as opposed to 30,” says Dr. Michelin.

That means shorter surgeries, fewer complications and less risk overall.

“It has really been a game changer for us,” says Dr. Michelin.

And, now almost five years cancer free, it’s been a life changer for Patti.

“Thanks to Dr. Michelin, and a whole lot of talented people, and a whole lot of supportive friends, I get to watch another spring. I get to watch the blue birds and the tree swallows fight over birdhouses in my backyard, I get to watch flowers coming up in the woods, I get another year with my family. Yep, that’s pretty wonderful,” says Patti.

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