Lymph Node Dissection Does Not Increase Survival From Breast Cancer

Lymph Node Dissection Does Not Increase Survival From 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.

Recently, 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 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 found that removing all the lymph nodes is not necessary. It found that there is no difference in survival between those that had total removal of lymph nodes and those who hadn’t-90% in both groups 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 know that there are options. 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 in practice it doesn’t work, and it leads to potentially serious complications.

So, speak up and discuss this with your doctor. The more you know the better your outcome!



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