Monday, February 22, 2010

Right axillary lipoma to be removed

As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to let you-all know that I do indeed plan to have the large lipoma (located under my right armpit) removed sometime this summer. I had another conversation with Dr. Monson (my orthopedic oncologist) about this and he was able to clarify why this particular lipoma is “special”. (Please note that I have several other smaller, more typical-sized lipomas in other easily-accessible locations, but the doctor has no interest or intention of removing those.) I also got a second opinion from another oncologist, who said essentially the same thing as Dr. Monson.

The reasons to remove this particular lipoma include:
  1. It’s difficult to monitor – given its awkward location, it’s difficult to monitor this lipoma for changes. Physical examination of the area is not a reliable means of detecting change and CT-Scans are primarily focused on abnormalities of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis and, therefore, not always fully inclusive of this area.
  2. It could become cancerous – though this lipoma is not believed to be cancerous, there’s a chance that it could become cancerous (in particular for someone already diagnosed with Liposarcoma). Having said that, however, I should also point out that I was told (by the doctor) that this would be “unlikely”. Even so, this motivates me all the more to have it removed.
  3. Don't wait for it to become a problem – given that there are critical nerves, blood vessels, and lymph nodes in that area, it’s probably best to have this removed before it has a chance to grow and become all that more of a surgical challenge.
I should mention as well that both doctors said “no rush” on the surgery, which is why I’m waiting until the summer to have this done. All-in-all, I’m not too worried about it, though I’m well-aware that this surgery comes with its own set of risks (especially given all of the nerves in that area). Even so, I think that a good surgeon shouldn’t have any problems with it.

Bottom line – having it removed is the right thing to do.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Quarterly scans all clear, but . . .

Thursday morning I had both an MRI of my leg and the full set of Chest, Abdomen, and Pelvis (CAP) CT-Scans. These scans, of course, were preceded by a Wednesday evening “nightcap” of “Creamy Vanilla Smoothie” (a.k.a., Barium Sulfate Suspension), with the same for breakfast Thursday morning. I have to admit, the Vanilla was the best of all the flavors I have tried. That’s not to say that I liked it either, but rather that it was the most tolerable of the ones I’ve had thus far. Next time though, I think I’ll press my luck and go for the (even newer) Mocha flavor! Mmm . . . Mocha . . . I just hope I can stand the anticipation between now and then! [No, not really; I can wait. :)]

Now for the good news: my quarterly scans where all clear! Yeah!!! This leaves me sitting easy for the next 3 months. Honestly, I never really worry too much about what may or may not be going on in-between scans. Yes, I typically do get a little nervous the evening before my scans, but the truth is there’s really nothing I can do that will make my results either better or worse than what they are going to be. And that’s not fatalism or defeatism by any stretch; that, my friends, is acceptance.

So what’s the but about in the title? Well, way back in July, 2008 (when I was getting my first full set of scans), it was noted that I have a rather sizable lipoma under my right armpit (see dark area within the red outline in the scan picture on left). Though my latest radiology report describes this as “a right axillary lipoma, stable from the prior exam”, Dr. Monson (my orthopedic oncologist) recommended that I get it removed.  (Note that I also have several other smaller, more typical-sized lipomas in various locations, but the doctor has no interest or intention of removing those.)  Though his advice was couched with “no rush”, the concern is that a large lipoma could change into something cancerous. I suppose he’s probably right (he certainly has an amazing reputation and impeccable credentials). Even so, I’ll want to get another opinion as well as find out more details about the surgery itself, particularly the risks and recovery time. I think my main hesitation here is I'm not looking forward to any surgery, especially if it will take days to weeks to fully recover.  Furthermore, it's not currently bothering me or giving me any type of discomfort.  If anybody has any information or advice for me here, I’m all ears.

And there’s one more but worth mentioning here: all my scans this time were done without IV contrast. Why? Well, recent blood tests showed slightly elevated creatinine levels (mine is 1.5) and there was some concern that the powerful intravenous contrast agents (those used with the CT-scans especially) might send my kidneys “over the edge”. What’s surprising to me is that I’ve always been good about drinking plenty of water and I’ve made a point of drinking 2 – 3 bottles of water immediately after each CT-Scan in an effort to quickly flush these from my system (as suggested by the radiologist).  Even so, it's possible that the sum of all these dyes to-date has led to my elevated creatinine levels. But it's even more likely (as one comment below suggests) that in my case what I'm seeing here is a late effect of my chemotherapy drugs. Either way, I will need to avoid contrast agents going forward.

To be clear, I’m not blaming anyone for this. Dr. Monson never ordered any contrast with my scans and has long since preached against this practice, arguing that the risk outweighs any perceived benefit. Furthermore, in my case, I am told that about 80% of any Myxoid Liposarcoma recurrence would show up as “chest nodules”, which is something you don’t need contrast to see.

So why was IV contrast used in the first place? Well, it’s the radiologists who seem to prefer it. But even there, they were fine with skipping it knowing that my creatinine levels were elevated. In fact, they were very appreciative that I had my levels tested and that I brought this to their attention.

So why even mention this? The point here is that one needs to be aware that cancer treatment and/or prevention can lead to yet a new set of problems. Also, if you’re having MRIs and/or CT-Scans with IV contrast, be sure to drink plenty of water immediately after the exam to help flush these dyes from your system. Finally, make sure that your doctor monitors your creatinine levels (especially if you've had chemotherapy drugs) so that any issues are caught early . . . before they have a chance to become big problems.

OK – I’m done. I’ve rambled on long enough. Expect to hear from me in another 3 months.