For decades, women with early diagnoses of breast cancer have been encouraged to have the lymph nodes beneath their arm pits surgically removed. Draining the lymph nodes often precedes the surgery, which is then followed by radiation treatment. While painful and fraught with potential complications, removal of the lymph nodes has been standard practice in the medical community.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Axillary Dissection vs No Axillary Dissection in Women With Invasive Breast Cancer and Sentinel Node Metastasis,” calls into question the standard treatment for women with certain kinds of smaller, early-stage breast cancer tumors. Overall, the findings apply to 20% of women with breast cancer who meet certain criteria.
The study randomly assigned half the 856 participants to undergo the traditional three-step lymph-node treatment and the remainder to go through the draining and radiation, but forgo surgical removal. The study was motivated by the significant risk of negative side-effects associated with the surgery.
The study’s findings include: