ROCHESTER, Minn. — 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 and led by Judy Boughey, M.D., a breast surgeon 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. The findings are published online in the Journal of American Medical Association.
"Since treatment with chemotherapy before surgery can eliminate cancer in the lymph nodes in some patients, we were interested in evaluating whether sentinel lymph node surgery could successfully identify whether cancer remained in the lymph nodes after chemotherapy," says Dr. Boughey. 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. Of study participants, 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 had a false-negative rate of 12.6 percent, and the false negative rate was significantly lower with the use of dual tracers (blue dye and radiolabeled colloid) to identify the sentinel lymph nodes. Also, when more than two sentinel nodes were removed, the false-negative rate was less than 10 percent. Dr. Boughey says that technical factors in surgery are important to help ensure correct staging, especially in the setting of patients who have received chemotherapy prior to surgery.
She anticipates that with appropriate patient selection, less extensive axillary surgery can be used for women who have the disease in their lymph nodes successfully eradicated by chemotherapy.
Other authors include Vera Suman, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic, Rochester; Elizabeth Mittendorf, M.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center; Gretchen Ahrendt, M.D., Magee-Women's Surgical Associates; Lee Wilke, M.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison; Bret Taback, M.D., Columbia University Medical Center; M. Leitch, M.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; Henry Kuerer, M.D., M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; Monet Bowling, M.D., Indiana University; Teresa Flippo-Morton, M.D., Carolina's Medical Center, Charlotte; David Byrd, M.D., University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle; David Ollila, M.D., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Thomas Julian, M.D., Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh; Sarah McLaughlin, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville; Linda McCall, Duke University Medical Center; W. Symmans, M.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center; Huong Le-Petross, M.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center; Bruce Haffty, M.D., The Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Thomas Buchholz, M.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center, Heidi Nelson, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Rochester; and Kelly Hunt, M.D., MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology is a national clinical trials network sponsored by the National Cancer Institute that consists of a network of nearly 10,000 cancer specialists at hospitals, medical centers and community clinics across the country and Canada. The Alliance is dedicated to developing and conducting clinical trials with promising new cancer therapies, and utilizes the best science to develop optimal treatment and prevention strategies for cancer, as well as researching methods to alleviate side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. To learn more about the Alliance, visithttp://www.allianceforclinicaltrialsinoncology.org/main/.
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