Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and has the fastest growth rate of all cancer types. Proper staging of melanoma is required for clinical management. One method of staging melanoma is performed by taking a sentinel node biopsy, in which the first node in the lymphatic drainage path of the primary lesion is removed and tested for the presence of melanoma cells. Current standard of care typically involves taking fewer than ten histologic sections of the node out of the hundreds of possible sections available in the tissue. We have developed a photoacoustic method that probes the entire intact node. We acquired a lymph node from a healthy canine subject. We cultured a malignant human melanoma cell line HS 936. Approximately 1×106 cells were separated and injected into the lymph node. We also had a healthy lymph node in which no melanoma cells were implanted. We used a tunable laser system set at 532 nm to irradiate the lymph nodes. Three piezoelectric acoustic detectors were positioned near the lymph node to detect photoacoustic pulses generated within the lymph nodes. We also acquired lymph nodes from pigs and repeated the experiments with increased amplification and improved sensors. We detected photoacoustic responses from a lymph node with as few as 500 melanoma cells injected into the tissue, while normal lymph nodes showed no response. Photoacoustic generation can be used to detect melanoma micrometastasis in sentinel lymph nodes. This detection can be used to guide further histologic study of the node, increasing the accuracy of the sentinel lymph node biopsy.

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