"I wish I had been given a choice"

About: Princess Alexandra Hospital / Breast surgery

(as the patient),

I was diagnosed with breast cancer end of May this year and subsequently under went a lumpectomy and auxiliary node clearance. I was asked if I would like to under go a trial in sentinel node biopsy, which is where they inject a radioactive dye into the nipple area, enabling the surgeon to identify the sentinel node with accuracy (the sentinel node is the first main node in the armpit). The sentinel node is sent to the pathologist to determine if cancer is present. If cancer is present then a follow up operation to remove the rest is required, if however there is no cancer present in the sentinel node then no more surgery is needed, and the remaining lymph nodes remain, therefore minimising the risk of lymphoedema (a swelling of the arm, numbness in the inside of the arm and stiffness of the shoulder) and avoiding unnecessary surgery. I was informed that there would be no benefit to me entering this trial as it is indeed only a trial and not available at present, but it would help future patients. I decided I would enter it.

I have no complaints with my actual surgery or my care. However I have since learnt that the sentinel node biopsy has been standard treatment at Addenbrookes (where I had my radiotherapy) and in other hospitals for the last 3 years. My complaint is why was I not given informed choice, why was I not told that this procedure was available at other hospitals?

I had 25 lymph nodes removed and all 25 were free of cancer. Whilst I am obviously over the moon that the cancer did not go to my lymph nodes, I would have liked the choice of a sentinel node biopsy at Addenbrookes, therefore avoiding unnecessary surgery and putting me in a higher risk of lymphoedema.

I wish to warn other patients of this, it is so easy to panic when told you have cancer, you put your whole trust in your consultant and their team. I have no anger with my consultant; I just wished I had been given the choice!

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