14 Feb 2011

Lymph node removal 'not needed' for some breast cancer

2:52 pm on 14 February 2011

A new study in the United States has found that many women with breast cancer do not need surgery to remove lymph nodes under the armpit.

The finding could change the routine treatment of early breast cancer. It may spare many women the pain and side effects related to this long-standing procedure.

The study included 891 patients who were followed from 1999 - 2004.

Armando Giuliano, of Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and colleagues analysed the two procedures in women with invasive breast cancer who had their tumors removed and underwent radiation and chemotherapy.

Overall survival rates after five years were about the same in both groups.

Removing cancerous lymph nodes in these women may not be necessary because the radiation and chemotherapy attacks cancers in the lymph nodes before they have time to spread, the team said.

They noted that removing lymph nodes from the armpit carries an indisputable and often unacceptable risk of complications, including infection and chronic and painful swelling of the arm.

These findings, when combined with other research, are considered strong enough to change the way certain women with breast cancer are treated.

The study was published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.