Breast Cancer Surgery May Become Less Invasive

Removing lymph nodes in the armpit may not be necessary in some early-stage breast cancer treatments

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A new study finds that removing underarm lymph nodes in women with early breast cancer (and who also undergo a lumpectomy) may not be necessary, thus saving them considerable pain and complications.

Removing one or two of the sentinel nodes (the lymph nodes to which the cancer first spreads) in women with a very limited amount of cancer in these nodes, along with surgery to remove the cancerous mass, appears to benefit women as much as axillary dissection (removal of lymph nodes in the armpits), according to the study.

Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology and oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La., said the study represents the largest randomized trial conducted to date that shows women with cancerous sentinel nodes do not necessarily need to undergo axillary dissection(complete removal of the nodes) when treated with radiation and/or chemotherapy.

He said not removing underarm lymph nodes in these cases will reduce complications and change the ways doctors approach certain breast-cancer treatments, while others were not so sure. Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved with the study, cautioned the study results are suggestive, not definitive.

The new study appears in the Feb. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women. A total of 202,964 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,598 women died from the disease in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Review Date: 
February 9, 2011
Last Updated:
August 18, 2011