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Screening Lots of Lymph Nodes Little Help for Colon Cancer Patients
Date:9/13/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Searching for cancer in lots of lymph nodes after colon cancer surgery does not seem to increase patients' chances of survival, a new study finds.

Researchers from the U.S. National Cancer Institute analyzed data on more than 86,000 cancer patients from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) cancer registry.

The investigators found that over the past 20 years, there's been a trend toward pathologists evaluating more and more lymph nodes in the hunt for cancer cells that have spread beyond the colon, according to the study in the Sept. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Though there can be variations in treatment, colon cancer patients whose tumors have metastasized, or spread to the lymph nodes, typically receive chemotherapy, while those with localized tumors are often treated with surgery alone, explained study author Helen Parsons, a public health advisor at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Presumably, evaluating more lymph nodes would increase the chances of finding cancer cells that have spread and help to get patients the right level of treatment, Parsons said.

During 1988-1990, about 35 percent of the patients studied had 12 lymph nodes or more evaluated. That rose to 47 percent in 2000-2002 and to nearly 74 percent in 2006-2008, according to the report.

And yet, despite evaluating so many more lymph nodes, pathologists didn't identify many more metastatic cancers.

In 1988-1990, about 40 percent of colon cancers were found to have spread to the lymph nodes, rising only slightly to 42 percent in 2006-2008.

"We found that while the number of lymph nodes patients had evaluated increased dramatically over the past 20 years, it hasn't led to significant increases in the overall proportion of lymph node-positive colon cancers identified," Parsons said.

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