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Eur J Surg Oncol. 2009 Jul;35(7):696-701. doi: 10.1016/j.ejso.2008.06.013. Epub 2008 Oct 5.

Shoulder-arm morbidity in patients with sentinel node biopsy and complete axillary dissection--data from a prospective randomised trial.

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  • 1Universit├Ątsfrauenklinik, Prittwitzstrasse 43, D-89075 Ulm, Germany.



Axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) as part of surgical treatment in breast cancer has been the standard procedure for many decades. However, patients frequently develop shoulder-arm morbidity postoperatively. Recently, sentinel node (SN) biopsy has been established as a new standard of care for axillary staging in breast cancer. This study compares postoperative morbidity between ALND and SN biopsy. The results are compared with the existing literature.


Between November 2000 and September 2002, 181 women with early stage breast cancer underwent primary surgery following preoperative randomisation into two groups, a "standard group" (SN biopsy was followed by ALND) and a study group (surgical procedure consisting of only SN biopsy when histologically metastasis-free SN was present). Follow-up data (362 sessions; 6 months to 3 years after primary surgery) were available from 150 patients. A summary morbidity score was calculated from four subjective (arm-strength, arm-mobility, arm swelling, pain) and four objective (arm-strength, arm-mobility, lymphedema, sensitivity) criteria.


Fifty seven patients underwent SN biopsy only. Ninety three patients underwent ALND, 57 of which had lymph nodes free of metastasis and 36 had lymph nodes with metastasis and axillary clearing. Shoulder-arm morbidity was significantly different between the groups. Patients treated with SN biopsy only scored better on subjective and objective criteria.


Postsurgical shoulder-arm morbidity is a major long-term problem in patients undergoing surgical treatment for breast cancer. This prospective study showed significantly less severe shoulder-arm morbidity following SN biopsy compared to patients undergoing ALND.

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