Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have traditionally had their lymph nodes biopsied for signs of cancer. If microscopic tumors have spread to lymph nodes near the breast, oncologists had assumed that this meant the disease had spread and that the lymph nodes should be surgically removed to improve patients’ chances of survival.
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association challenges this assumption. Over 5,000 women with early stage breast cancer were included in the study. Lymph nodes were carefully scrutinized for abnormal cells. The investigators found that invisible cancer cells and lymph node removal did not affect the women’s survival. Because lymph node surgery can lead to serious complications, oncologists are beginning to rethink this routine approach to treating breast cancer.
[JAMA, July 27, 2011]