A less-aggressive type of surgery to treat early stage breast cancer is just as effective as the standard, more extensive treatment, according to a new study. For women with early stage sentinel lymph node negative (SLN-negative) breast cancer, sentinel lymph node dissection works just as well as radical axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) in preventing the cancer from spreading, the study in Lancet Oncology found. ALND is an extensive surgical procedure that removes all of the axillary (armpit) lymph nodes but often comes with adverse post-operative effects, such as nerve damage, arm swelling, and reduced use of the arm and shoulder. Sentinel lymph node dissection, on the other hand, provides a less invasive option that selectively removes the sentinel lymph nodes thought to be the first lymph nodes targeted by breast tumors.
The study followed 5,611 U.S. and Canadian women with SLN-negative breast cancers of varying sizes. The patients were randomly assigned to undergo either ALND or sentinel lymph node dissection. The researchers found that after eight years, survival rates were approximately the same in both groups.
ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross emphasizes that while this is just one study, it is good news for early stage breast cancer patients. “If confirmed, it would represent a major benefit for breast cancer patients, as the complications of radical node dissection can be disabling.”