Helping an American fight cancer

A GOOD WORD: Karen Scott and her husband, John Scott, at Manipal Hospital in Bangalore on Monday Photo: K. Gopinathan

A GOOD WORD: Karen Scott and her husband, John Scott, at Manipal Hospital in Bangalore on Monday Photo: K. Gopinathan  

Divya Ramamurthi

BANGALORE: Karen Scott, of Gualala, California, led a good life: she ran a successful business, was a prominent member of the local community and, best of all, she suffered no illnesses.

But in September last, things took a different turn. She was diagnosed with breast cancer during a medical examination after a fall on an icy pavement.

Ms. Scott, 59, and her husband, John Scott, did not have health insurance, and they started learning about other places around the world where treatment for breast cancer was available. "We did an extensive search on the Internet and found that a lot of people were coming to India for treatment. The low cost of treatment and good medical facilities were a factor in India's favour," Mr. Scott said.

They zeroed in on Manipal Hospital, Bangalore. One of the criteria for choosing the hospital, Ms. Scott said, was that it offered "sentinel lymph node biopsy".

The sentinel node is the first lymph node to which cancer is likely to spread from the primary tumour. If biopsy gives a negative result, it suggests that cancer has not spread to lymph nodes, and doctors do not remove all the auxiliary lymph nodes under the arm.

Dr. Somashekar, consultant surgical oncologist at Manipal Hospital, said that by performing the sentinel lymph node biopsy, he and his team comprising a nuclear medicine specialist and plastic surgeon were able to prevent the removal of all lymph nodes in 70 per cent of cases. "A negative biopsy saves the patient a lot of pain. There are no side-effects, such as swelling of the arm or restricted movement of the arm," he added.

However, in Ms. Scott's case, the biopsy turned out to be positive, and doctors had to remove all the lymph nodes under her arm. "I was really upset. I thought I would be one of those persons for whom it had not metastasised," she said.

But Ms. Scott is determined and confident. "We can hope for the best but have to deal with what is given to us. I have pulled myself together," she said.

She said she was glad that she had come to India. "The treatment is tops. I do know whether I would have received the same level of care in the U.S."

Ms. Scott said she was touched that many people here showed concern for her when she was undergoing treatment. "One of the security persons said a prayer for me before I went in, and another found out how I was doing after the operation. I could never have experienced anything similar back home," she added.

A study by the Confederation of Indian Industry and McKinsey Consultants estimates that 8,000 people come to Karnataka each year for medical treatment.

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