New skin cancer biopsy at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital

Norfolk patients are starting to benefit from a new test to see if skin cancer has spread.The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is the first in the East of England to offer a more accurate and less invasive test called sentinel lymph node biopsy.

Norfolk patients are starting to benefit from a new test to see if skin cancer has spread.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is the first in the East of England to offer a more accurate and less invasive test called sentinel lymph node biopsy.

With skin cancer rates rising rapidly in this country, the test will benefit growing numbers of people. Up until now people with melanoma, or skin cancer, had to regularly attend clinic and their doctor would feel for enlarged lymph nodes and the cancer would often grow to a large size before it could be detected. The alternative was to have a whole group of lymph nodes removed, perhaps unnecessarily.

The number of people getting melanoma in the UK has quadrupled since the 1970s. More than 8,900 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year, making it the 7th most common cancer and particularly common in the 20-40 year old age group.


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The sentinel lymph node is the lymph node nearest to the cancer, which it is most likely to have spread to. With the new process, the sentinel node is located using a radioactive substance and sent to the pathology laboratory for testing. If the sentinel node does not contain any cancer cells, the patient will not need to have any other lymph nodes removed and can be reassured that their prognosis is very good.

If the sentinel lymph node does contain melanoma cells, another operation is needed to remove the other lymph nodes in the area. Detecting the spread to the lymph nodes at a very early stage has been shown to substantially increase the patient's chance of survival.

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Sentinel lymph node biopsy is routinely offered in the Australia and the United States. But it is only available in about a dozen hospitals in this country and only the N&N in the east of England offers it. Previously Norfolk and Suffolk patients have had to go to Barts or the Royal Free hospitals in London.

Consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Marc Moncrieff and consultant dermatologist Jennifer Garioch have helped develop the new biopsy at the N&N. Mr Moncrieff, who has also worked in Australia, said: 'Skin cancer is a major health problem in Australia and melanoma tends to affect people of working age. In Sydney, one of the first things patients will say to you is 'Can I have the sentinel node test please?' Excellent teamwork means we can now offer this service in Norfolk.'

Gail Adams, 39, of East Ruston, near North Walsham, was the first patient to have the procedure at the N&N. She said: 'I was offered an appointment with Mr Moncrieff within a few days. The sentinel lymph node biopsy process was explained very clearly to me, including a background of Sydney patients' views on the process. I was happy to agree to the process.'

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