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N&N leading the way in skin cancer study

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:39 02 July 2010

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

Dan Grimmer

A Norfolk hospital has been chosen to take part in an international research study that could lead to reduced side-effects following surgery for skin cancer.

Dan Grimmer

A Norfolk hospital has been chosen to take part in an international research study that could lead to reduced side-effects following surgery for skin cancer.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital became the first in the region to offer a specific type of biopsy for patients with newly diagnosed melanoma, to check at an early stage whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

The new study will test whether removing the sentinel node - the nearest lymph node to the tumour - is enough to remove all traces of cancer without the need for further surgery.

Currently, if the sentinel node is found to be affected, the routine option is to remove all the lymph nodes in the area of the tumour, which can potentially lead to swelling and fluid retention, called lymphoedema, in the arm or leg.

Rates of skin cancer are increasing and it has become the most common form of cancer in 15 to 34-year-olds.

About 20 patients a year are expected to take part in the study and the N&N is only the second skin tumour centre in the UK to be invited to take part.

Marc Moncrieff, a plastic surgeon who is leading the study at the N&N, said: “The evidence so far from studies around the world is that further invasive surgery may not be necessary.

“If this is proved to be the case, we could see a dramatic reduction in lymphoedema following surgery to the lymph nodes and traditional methods for treating melanoma could be consigned to the history books.”

The research study, known as MSLT-II, is being overseen by the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica and is funded by the American government.

Other major centres of international renown are involved, such as the Sydney Melanoma Unit in Australia and the MD Anderson Cancer Center in the US.

Mr Moncrieff added: “We are only the second skin tumour centre in the UK to be invited to take part in the MSLT-II study after careful scrutiny.

“It is a great endorsement of the standard of care that we provide at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for melanoma patients.”

Sentinel node biopsy involves close collaboration between the skin cancer teams at the N&N, the nuclear medicine department, where patients are scanned, and the pathologists who test the lymph nodes for minute traces of cancer.

An average of one woman aged 20 to 29 is diagnosed with skin cancer every day in the UK. The most recently released data from 2005 to 2007 showed there were 13 men per 100,000 of the population with malignant melanoma and 14 women in the county.

There are almost 2,000 new cases of skin cancer every year in the county and the number is rising fast with “binge tanning” on sun beds a major part of the problem.

Karin Bryant, NHS Norfolk's cancer programme manager, said: “NHS Norfolk has worked closely with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital dermatology department to develop and commission new services including the sentinel node biopsy.

“We welcome this exciting new study, which will may hopefully lead to a greater understanding of cancer treatment and benefit cancer patients.”

Do you have a health story for the Evening News? Call Sarah Hall on 01603 772426 or email sarah.hall2@archant.co.uk

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