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New high-powered camera aims to detect cancer

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Bay area surgeons are hoping that a specialized camera could help patients survive a deadly form of cancer by locating leftover cells that could allow the disease to return. (KGO-TV)

Bay area surgeons are hoping that a specialized camera could help patients survive a deadly form of cancer. The goal is to locate leftover cells that could allow the disease to return.

It's been a stressful journey for Shauna Sutton since being diagnosed with melanoma on her left arm. But after a surgery to remove it, she's hoping the worst is behind her. "Yes, they have gotten everything out of my arm, but they're going back into to do the margin of error to make sure," Shauna said.

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To narrow that margin of error, doctors at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco are injecting Shauna with radioactive particles. They're engineered to attach themselves to her lymph nodes where leftover cancer cells could be hiding. "The goal is to take out every possible
sentinel lymph node," said Stanley Leong, M.D., from the California Pacific Medical Center.

To locate the tiny lymph nodes, doctors plan to use use a new technology - a camera called Sentinella, that can literally see the radiation footprint now attached to the nodes.

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Before deploying the camera though, Leong uses the traditional method, a kind of medical Geiger counter. Its signal grows stronger when a probe gets close to a large sentinel node. But after removing the first node, the signal gets fainter and harder to gauge, and Leong says smaller nodes can go undetected. In general, it's pretty effective but if you have a few people hiding in the corner, it makes it more difficult. So we'll miss some of these lymph nodes," he said.

Over the course of the next half hour, Leong and his team re-scan the area with the Sentinella camera. With a series of scans, the camera ultimately uncovers two more sentinel lymph nodes. After they're removed, they'll be biopsied to see if there are any hidden cancer cells that could trigger recurrence. Results can range from follow up surgeries to the outcome Shauna is hoping for, peace of mind. "The doctor can go in and really make sure it's gone and not have to wonder if there's something left behind there, that's huge," Shauna said.

The effectiveness of the Sentinella camera is now the focus of a clinical trial being run through the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute.

Click here for more information on the Sentinella camera.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

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