Medical Moment: Firefly lights up lymph nodes

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 10:05 PM EDT
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As many as 65,000 women will be diagnosed this year with a type of cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus.

But now, a new technique during surgery is helping women recover with fewer complications.

Susan Vander Ploeg was a professional graphic 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,” Susan says.

Doctor Ami Vaidya diagnosed Susan 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,” says Ami Vaidya, gynecologic oncologist at Hackensack Meridian Health System.

At the start of surgery, Dr. Vaidya injected a special dye into Susan’s uterus that was designed to flow into the lymph nodes, it’s 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,” Vaidya says.

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,” Vaidya says. “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 Susan have a lower risk of complications like lymphedema.

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

Thankfully, Susan’s scans are now clear of cancer.

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