Rochester, Minn. — Which breast cancer patients need to have underarm lymph nodes removed? Mayo Clinic-led research is narrowing it down. A new study finds that not all women with lymph node-positive breast cancer treated with chemotherapy before surgery need to have all of their underarm nodes taken out. Ultrasound is a useful tool for judging before breast cancer surgery whether chemotherapy eliminated cancer from the underarm lymph nodes, the researchers found. The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
In the past, when breast cancer was discovered to have spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, surgeons routinely removed all of them. Taking out all of those lymph nodes may cause arm swelling called lymphedema and limit the arm’s range of motion.
Now, many breast cancer patients receive chemotherapy before surgery. Thanks to improvements in chemotherapy drugs and use of targeted therapy, surgeons are seeing more women whose cancer is eradicated from the lymph nodes by the time they reach the operating room, says lead author Judy C. Boughey, M.D. a breast surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
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Journalists: Sound bites with Dr. Boughey are available in the downloads.