Our bodies are designed with a rather amazing purification method called the lymphatic system. A vital part of our immune system, it works by filtering impurities like bacteria and viruses, and – most importantly – cancer cells.
When I first saw a diagram of our lymphatic network, with collection points, distribution vessels and ducts, I have to say it reminded me of the Paris Sewers, a marvel of engineering that one never thinks about when enjoying the fantastic city it serves . . . and protects.
Such is our lymphatic system. About 500 to 700 bean-sized nodes are strategically placed in clusters where they can drain tissue fluid from all over the body, filtering out harmful organisms or abnormal cells, including bacteria, viruses and cancer. Amazingly, the system works much like a sewage treatment plant, processing these invading pollutants so that the body can remove or fight them and protect its precious host.
The nodes normally biopsied when breast cancer is detected are sentinel nodes in the arm pit. These nodes are the first filter point for cancer cells that may be moving beyond the breast and are critical to staging the cancer. By injecting dye into the breast tissue, the doctor can follow the dye as it flows into the lymph nodes and identify immediately which are the first “guards” or sentinels that might have caught the malignant cells. If cancer cells are found in the sentinel nodes, further nodes will likely be tested to determine whether or not the cancer is contained in the lymph nodes, known as regional spread, or whether there is a possibility of metastasis (spread) to other areas such as the bones, brain or lung.
OK, so it’s not Paris. But it is rather incredible – and quite beautiful - that our bodies are so intricately designed for survival. So remember, if you are dealing with a serious challenge to that survival, every fiber of your being, literally every single cell, wants to overcome the disease.
I am confident that with vigilant monitoring of our health, the continuation of medical achievements, and a personal commitment to overcoming illness, we can prevent many cancer deaths in our lifetime.