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Breast. 2008 Apr;17(2):138-47. Epub 2007 Oct 24.

Arm morbidity following sentinel lymph node biopsy or axillary lymph node dissection: a study from the Danish Breast Cancer Cooperative Group.

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Department of Surgery, Aarhus University Hospital, JageHansensgade 2, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.



Sentinel lymph node biopsy was implemented in the treatment of early breast cancer with the aim of reducing shoulder and arm morbidity. Relatively few prospective studies have been published where the morbidity was assessed by clinical examination. Very few studies have examined the impact on shoulder mobility of node positive patients having a secondary axillary dissection because of the findings of metastases postoperatively.


We aimed to investigate the objective and subjective arm morbidity in node negative and node positive patients.


In a prospective study, 395 patients with tumors less than 4 cm, were included. Patients were recruited from seven Danish breast cancer clinics. Both subjective and objective arm and shoulder morbidity were measured before, 6 and 18 months after the operation.


Comparing node negative patients having a sentinel lymph node biopsy with node negative patients having a lymph node dissection of levels I and II of the axilla, we found significant increase in arm volume among the patients who had an axillary dissection. Only minor, but significant, differences in shoulder mobility were observed comparing the two groups of node negative patients. Highly significant difference was found comparing sensibility. Comparing the morbidity in node positive patients who had a one-step axillary dissection with patients having a two-step procedure (sentinel lymph node biopsy followed by delayed axillary dissection) revealed no difference in objective or subjective arm morbidity.


Node negative patients operated with sentinel lymph node biopsy have less arm morbidity compared with node negative patients operated with axillary lymph node dissection. Node positive patients who had a secondary axillary lymph node dissection after sentinel lymph node biopsy had no difference in either objective or subjective morbidity compared with node positive patients having a one-step axillary dissection.

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