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Am J Surg. 1999 Nov;178(5):362-6.

The unsatisfactory margin in breast cancer surgery.

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Department of Medicine, Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Massachusetts 01199, USA.



Surgical margin involvement with breast cancer usually results in obligatory reexcision or mastectomy. While unalterable occult host and pathologic factors may interfere with margin clearance during the initial excision, it is possible that alterations in surgical technique might increase the likelihood of obtaining satisfactory margins.


Two hundred and thirty-five patients who were candidates for breast conservation therapy were identified for 1991 and 1996 using the Tumor Registry. Margins were defined as "unsatisfactory" if there was microscopic involvement with tumor or the margin was close at initial excisional biopsy and the surgeon opted for reexcision. Multiple logistic regression analyses of factors associated with margin status were performed.


One hundred thirty-two (56%) patients had positive or close (unsatisfactory) margins; this rate increased from 51% in 1991 to 59% in 1996. Patients with unsatisfactory margins underwent more procedures (mean 2.0 versus 1.2; P <0.0001) than patients whose margins were satisfactory. The breast conservation rate for patients with unsatisfactory margins was 64% compared with 99% for patients with satisfactory margins. A multiple logistic regression demonstrated that patients with unsatisfactory margins were 67 times more likely to have a mastectomy than patients whose margins were satisfactory after adjusting for other significant factors (P <0.0001). The practice of fine needle aspiration biopsy, orientation of specimen margins by the surgeon, and reexcision of tumor at the first operation were statistically significant technical factors in obtaining satisfactory margins. Significant pathology factors were extensive intraductal component (EIC), lobular or ductal extension, and tumor size.


These data show that technical factors in the surgical management of breast cancer, as well as biological factors such as EIC, can influence the success of breast conservation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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