Most patients whose breast cancer has spread to their lymph nodes have most of the lymph nodes in their armpit area removed after chemotherapy to determine if any cancer remains.
A study conducted through the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group at Mayo Clinic, shows that a less-invasive procedure known as sentinel lymph node surgery successfully identified whether cancer remained in lymph nodes in 91 percent of patients with node-positive breast cancer who received chemotherapy before their surgery.
In sentinel lymph node surgery, only a few lymph nodes, the ones most likely to contain cancer, are removed. Removing only a few lymph nodes reduces the risk of surgical complications such as numbness and arm swelling. , she says.
Researchers studied 756 women with node-positive breast cancer who received chemotherapy as an initial treatment. 637 patients had both sentinel lymph node and axillary lymph node surgery. Sentinel lymph node surgery correctly identified whether cancer lingered in 91 percent of patients, including 255 patients with node-negative breast cancer and 382 patients with continuing node-positive disease.
Researchers also found that 40 percent of the patients had complete eradication of the cancer from the lymph nodes. The study author says she anticipates that with appropriate patient selection, less extensive surgery can be used for women who have the disease in their lymph nodes successfully eradicated by chemotherapy.
The study was conducted through the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group, part of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, and funded by the National Cancer Institute.