Using Lymphoseek to Determine if Cancer Has Spread to the Lymph Nodes

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • When skin cancer spreads from the original location to other areas in your body, it travels through the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are located throughout your body and work to help fight infections and filter out toxins from your bloodstream. When cancer reaches the lymph nodes, it can grow there, causing the cancer to be spread to other areas in your body. Because of this, doctors often perform a lymph node biopsy on the lymph nodes closest to the cancer. If cancer is found, those lymph nodes are removed.


    Lymphoseek is a radioactive substance that is injected into the original tumor site. It is manufactured by Navidea Biopharmaceuticals. Once it is injected, hand-held gamma  counter can be used to determine if the substance has traveled to the lymph nodes. This allows doctors to accurately determine if lymph nodes, and which ones, need to be removed. In 2013, Lymphoseek was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used for melanoma and breast cancer. In June, 2014, the  FDA further approved Lymphoseek to be used for head and neck cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma.

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    According to Dr. Libero Marzella of the FDA, “For some patients with head and neck cancer, removal and pathological examination of lymph nodes draining a primary tumor is an important diagnostic evaluation.” By determining if, and which lymph nodes are affected by cancer, doctors can limit their treatment to only those affected and have a more thorough understanding of if and how the cancer is spreading. It allows for a more tailored treatment plan.


    Targeting treatment, and removing lymph nodes only when it is confirmed they are involved, is a safer alternative. One of the side effects of removing lymph nodes, called a lymph node dissection, is lymphedema. Because the lymph nodes drain fluid from the limb, once removed the fluid can build up. This causes swelling and pain in the limb where the nodes are located.


    To test the effectiveness of Lymphoseek, 85 patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the lip, oral cavity and skin participated in a clinical trial. All of the patients were injected with Lymphoseek. Those that showed the lymphatic system was affected had only those lymph nodes removed and tested. According to the results, Lymphoseek was accurate in determining if the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes.

    The clinical trial found the most common side effect of Lymphoseek was pain and irritation at the injection site. Hopefully, it will reduce the amount and extent of lymph node dissection in those with melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.  



Published On: July 09, 2014