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Eur J Surg Oncol. 2003 May;29(4):341-50.

Comparison of morbidity between axillary lymph node dissection and sentinel node biopsy.

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Department of Surgery, Catharina Hospital Eindhoven, The Netherlands.



The use of axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) in women with breast cancer is associated with considerable morbidity. Sentinel node biopsy (SNB) removes the lymph node in the axillary basin indicative for receiving first lymphatic drainage from the breast. This study compares the nature and severity of physical morbidity among breast cancer patients who underwent primary surgery for breast cancer combined with either ALND or SNB. Also, it assesses influence of subsequent radiotherapy on morbidity.


Two hundred and thirteen ALND patients were compared with 180 SNB patients retrospectively. Morbidity was measured using a disease-specific quality-of-life questionnaire.


Patients' demographic characteristics were alike. The axillary procedure is the strongest and most consistent factor in explaining differences in a variety of self-reported complaints. Patients having had SNB have a 3.2-fold lower risk of experiencing pain, a 5-fold lower risk of lymph oedema, a 7.7-fold lower risk of numbness, a 3.7-fold lower risk of tingling sensations, a 7.1-fold lower risk of loss of strength in arm/hand, a 3.6-fold lower risk of loss of active motion range of the arm and a 2.9-fold lower risk of impaired use of the arm. Axillary radiation therapy adds to complaints next to the axillary surgical procedure by increasing the risk of lymph oedema 2.4-fold and enhancing the risk of impaired use of the arm by 2.6-fold. Axillary radiation therapy does not explain lymph oedema by itself.


SNB is associated with less morbidity compared to ALND in patients with primary breast cancer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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