Assessing lymph nodes to see if they contain cancer cells (sentinel lymph node mapping) is typically performed to determine the extent of a cancer’s spread and to plan treatment. Current imaging devices usually detect cancer prior to surgery. However, these devices cannot be used during surgery to visualize lymph nodes containing cancer (called “sentinel lymph nodes”). The purpose of this study is to evaluate a novel method of detecting cancer cells in lymph nodes during surgery in patients with melanoma of the head and neck.
Doctors are testing, for the first time in patients in the United States, an innovative optical nanoparticle probe to analyze lymph nodes. The nanoparticles are the size of small proteins and will be injected around the sites of melanoma in the operating room. Doctors will then use a special hand-held camera to see where the nanoparticles have traveled. The nanoparticles are labeled with a fluorescent dye that makes them visible when viewed with the camera.
The hope is that this approach is a more sensitive and more precise way of finding cancer cells in lymph nodes, compared with standard methods. In addition, because researchers can put markers on these probes that are specific for individual tumors, the nanoparticle probes could potentially become a new way to deliver anticancer drugs directly to cancer cells.