Life took an unexpected turn for William C. Rands III after he discovered a lump in his breast while taking
a shower. Two months later, the 57-year-old Rands, married and the father of two adult children, had a
Prior to the surgery, Rands underwent a new procedure called sentinel node biopsy that shows promise for diagnosing the spread of breast cancer. The Josephine Ford Cancer Center (JFCC) is among a select few
cancer centers in Michigan performing the procedure as part of a national clinical trial.
“Sentinel node biopsy is another evolving step in the treatment of breast cancer,” says Rands, who credits his
survival to the early detection and swift care by his team of physicians at the JFCC.
“It’s more humane and more sparing than the conventional procedure. And I certainly can relate to how a
woman would feel about losing a part of herself.”
While breast cancer afflicts mostly women, men are diagnosed with the disease in one of every 100 cases.
In fact, all types of breast cancer found in women can be found in men.
Sentinel node biopsy involves injecting a blue dye and a radioactive solution near the breast tumor and tracking
the path of the dye and solution through the lymph nodes in the armpit. The dye accumulates in the sentinel node, which is the first lymph node where a tumor drains and the likely place the cancer would first spread.
Only the sentinel node is removed for analysis when a patient has either a mastectomy or lumpectomy. If the
analysis shows no cancer cells have spread to the sentinel node, it is unlikely that other nodes are cancerous,
says S. David Nathanson, a surgical oncologist with the JFCC and Rands’ physician.
The procedure is less invasive than the standard treatment, which usually involves removing a tumor either by
a mastectomy or lumpectomy and removing most of the lymph nodes in the armpit. Each armpit has 10 to 70
lymph nodes. Removing most of the lymph nodes can cause permanent side effects, including arm swelling, a
burning sensation, infection and restricted shoulder movement.
“This is one of the most significant surgical and diagnostic advances developed for treating breast cancer,” Nathanson says.
Rands says he has not experienced any post-operative complications.
“The benefit of sentinel node biopsy is real,” he says.