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Cancer. 1995 Nov 1;76(9):1491-512.

Axillary lymph nodes and breast cancer: a review.

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1
Joint Center for Radiation Therapy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The value of surgical staging and treatment of the axillary lymph nodes with either surgery or radiotherapy in the initial management of patients with Stage I or II invasive breast cancer is controversial.

METHODS:

A review of retrospective and prospective clinical studies was performed to assess the risks of axillary lymph node involvement and the effectiveness and morbidity of various treatment options.

RESULTS:

The risk of axillary lymph node involvement is substantial for most patients, even those with small tumors. The morbidity resulting from a careful Level I/II axillary dissection or moderate-dose axillary radiotherapy is limited. Such treatment is highly effective in preventing axillary recurrence. The symptoms resulting from axillary failure can be controlled in many, but not all, patients. The available data suggest, but do not prove, that the initial use of effective axillary treatment may result in a small improvement in long term outcome in some patient subgroups.

CONCLUSIONS:

Most patients should be treated with either axillary surgery or irradiation. Highly selected subgroups of patients may have such low risks of involvement that specific axillary treatment is of little value. However, such subgroups have not yet been well defined. Treatment approaches that do not involve specific axillary treatment should be considered investigational at present, and the patients should be informed as to their potential risks. Prospective clinical studies of these issues should be pursued.

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