A somewhat surprising and counterintuitive recommendation is the result of a multiyear breast cancer study: approximately 20% of women with breast cancer should not have cancerous lymph nodes from under their arms removed. This new approach to treatment was adopted by Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a renowned cancer treatment hospital in New York City in September 2010. Dr. Monica Morrow, chief of the breast service at Sloan-Kettering is one of the author's of the study supporting this new protocol which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on 2/9/11. The study found that the survival rate for patients whose lymph nodes were removed is very similar to the survival of patients whose lymph nodes were not removed.
The study concludes that taking out the lymph nodes does not change the treatment plan, improve survival, or make the cancer less likely to recur. Often, the removal of lymph nodes causes dangerous, painful and potentially disabling complications such as infection and/or lymphedema.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are now standard therapy for women whose breast cancer has traveled to the lymph nodes. It is believe that this treatment is effective for wiping out any disease in these lymph nodes.
Importantly, the new results do not apply to all patients, only to those whose women who meet the specific criteria as laid out in the study with regard to lymph node descriptive details.
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For more information you can refer to:
The article by Denise Grady in the NY Times entitled “Lymph Node Study Shakes Breast Cancer Treatment” dated 2/9/11
The article in the Journal of the American Medical Association entitled "Auillary Dissection vs No Axillary Dissection in Women With Invasive Breast Cancer and Sentinel Node Metastasis" with multiple authors including Armando E. Giuliano, MD
A followup article to the 2/9 article in the NY Times, also by Denise Grady "Implications of Study on Breast Cancer"