Best Life: Firefly lights up lymph nodes

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 7:22 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As many as 65,000 women will be diagnosed this year with endometrial cancer, cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus. Now, a technique during surgery, known as Firefly, is helping women recover with fewer complications.

Susan Vander Ploeg was a professional graphics artist early in her career. These days, painting is a good form of stress relief.

“I had been post-menopausal for about seven years and suddenly had some bleeding and I thought this is not good,” said Ploeg.

Dr. Ami Vaidya, MD Gynecologic Oncologist, Hackensack Meridian HealthSystem diagnosed Ploeg with cancer in her uterine lining. The cancer was early stage, but doctors needed to surgically remove it and ensure it hadn’t metastasized.

“What we do is we want to identify lymph nodes that are the most likely nodes to be involved if cancer were to spread and leave the uterus,” said Vaidya.

At the start of surgery, doctor Vaidya injected a special dye into Ploeg’s uterus that was designed to flow into the lymph nodes, its nicknamed Firefly. Doctors used a robotic system to perform a hysterectomy then...

“During surgery, we activate a special camera on our robotic lens, and we are able to see in the near-infrared spectrum,” said Vaidya.

In the infrared mode, the sentinel lymph nodes appear fluorescent green.

“For Susan, we identified lymph nodes on the left and on the right side, they glowed just the way that they’re supposed to,” said Vaidya. “And it allowed us to be so precise in removing them.”

Doctors say by carefully removing the sentinel lymph nodes in the pelvis, patients like Ploeg have a lower risk of complications like lymphedema.

“I am one of the very lucky ones. And for that, I’m so grateful,” said Ploeg.

Her scans are clear of cancer and there’s no sign of lymphedema. Doctors say lymphedema cans tart a few day or a few years after lymph nodes are removed or damaged. With lymphedema, fluid builds up and patients sometimes need additional surgeries.

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