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Study: Lymph node removal may not be necessary in breast cancer patients


Study: Lymph node removal may not be necessary in breast cancer patients

nickj February 9, 2011

Results of a new study suggest that there may not be as many benefits to lymph node removal in early breast cancer patients as originally thought. The findings contradict the practices of many medical professionals who often recommend the surgery, The Washington Post reports.

The federally funded study was conducted by researchers at the University of Vermont and published the in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and focused on almost 900 patients across the Untied States. What the scientists found was that those who had their lymph nodes removed were not more likely to survive five years after the surgery than those who did not have them removed.

Specifically, 445 of the subjects had the removal and 446 did not, and the disease-free survival rate five years after was 83.9 percent in those who did not have surgery and 82.2 percent in those who did.

The findings may change the course of practice by healthcare professionals, many of whom currently recommend the removal of lymph nodes near the armpit along with the tumor in the breast to prevent the cancer from spreading. However, the procedure is often more painful and leads to an increased recovery time for the patient.

"That thought probably lasted over 50 years, then we realized that a lot of cancers spread through the bloodstream first, or at the same time as they are spreading through the lymph nodes, and that removing the lymph nodes isn’t curative in and of itself," Grant W. Carlson, a breast cancer surgeon who co-authored an editorial that accompanied the study, told WebMD.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2007 there were more than 200,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the United States, and more than 40,500 people died form the disease.