Lymph Node Dissection May Not Be Necessary For Patients With Early-Stage Breast Cancer

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Surgeons are no longer removing most of the lymph nodes in the underarm area when a biopsy near the area shows cancer, a major change in breast cancer management, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
Researchers evaluated data from 2.7 million patients with breast cancer in the U.S. and learned to what extent surgeons were following recommendations from the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group Z0011, or ACOSOG Z-11 trial, published four years ago.

They reported that most early-stage breast cancer patients with tumors in their sentinel lymph node who undergo lumpectomy do not benefit from surgical removal of the remaining lymph nodes in the underarm area, called completion axillary lymph node dissection or ALND, according to a news release. They found no difference in cancer recurrence and five-year survival between patients who underwent ALND and those who did not.

Researchers found a dramatic increase in the proportion of lumpectomy patients who underwent only a sentinel lymph node biopsy — SNB — without an ALND. The SNB-alone rate more than doubled — from 23% in 2009 to 56% in 2011, according to the study.

“As far as I know, our study is the first to show that the findings from the ACOSOG Z-11 trial have changed clinical practice for breast cancer patients nationwide,” lead author Katharine Yao, MD, FACS, director of the Breast Surgical Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., and clinical associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said in the release. “The Z-11 trial has had a huge impact because of the lower risks for patients who undergo SNB alone.”

Investigators found that 74,309 patients (of the 2.72 million cases diagnosed between 1998 and 2011) met criteria for having SNB alone but underwent lumpectomy and radiation therapy to the whole breast, according to the press release.

The rate of SNB alone cases reportedly increased from 6.1% in 1998 to 56% in 2011. 
Yao said findings suggest that some practitioners may feel uncomfortable not performing ALND in high-risk patients, and called for more education for surgeons.

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