Good News for Ladies with Early Breast Cancer!

If you were told that your treatment would result in swelling in your armpit and a chance of a serious bacterial infection, would you go through with it? Maybe yes, especially if it saves your life. But what if I also explained that another less aggressive treatment was available and it worked just as well, and it spared you  these complications? Wouldn’t you choose the latter? Of course you would.

This week an article in the American Journal of Medicine and reviewed in the NY Times and USA Today reported the results of an important research study that potentially affects tens of thousands of women with early breast cancer. Normally, treatment options for breast cancer are determined after examining whether there is any metastasis to the axillary lymph nodes (those lymph nodes under the armpit). During surgery, a dye is injected into the breast and the first lymph nodes to receive the dye are removed and examined for evidence of metastases (this procedure is called sentinel node biopsy). If a node is positive (has tumor cells), the surgeon would typically remove all the remaining lymph nodes (10 or more). The study reported here contained important data that showed removing all the lymph nodes is not necessary. It found that there is no difference in survival between those that had total removal and those who hadn’t: 90% survived at least five years.

I bring this to your attention because if, God forbid, you or a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, you now have the information you need to ask the right questions. Many doctors believe that more is better; taking out more lymph nodes must be better than taking out one or two. Intuitively, it may make sense, but after doing the studies (evidence-based medicine) it’s wrong and it leads to potentially serious complications. The more you know the better your outcome!

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