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Health, Science & Tech

Doctors Confirm Effectiveness of Less Invasive Procedure for Early Stage Breast Cancer

Each year more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer, and now doctors in Pittsburgh have confirmed that a less-invasive surgical procedure for women with early stage breast cancer is as effective as traditional surgery.

According to Dr. Thomas Julian, associate director of the Breast Care Center at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), a 10-year follow up on a clinical trial involving 5,611 women with invasive breast cancer showed no significant difference in overall survival or disease-free survival.

Julian said sentinel nodes are normally the first lymph nodes to receive cancer cells from the breast tumor.  The standard procedure involves the resection of the sentinel nodes and dissection of other lymph nodes. The clinical trial conducted by AGH and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project demonstrated that doctors can find the sentinel nodes, remove them with a small surgical procedure and if no cancer is found, removal of the remaining lymph nodes is not necessary.

“Removing a significant number of lymph nodes affects quality of life,” Julian said. “She can have a significant amount of pain and discomfort in the arm. It might limit the function of the arm; it could also cause something called lymphedema or swelling of the arm and that then could put her at higher risks for infections of the arm and also limitation of her use of the arm.”

Julian said the goal is to make any procedure as minimally invasive as possible.

“Certainly this technique seems to fit that to a “T” to do that," he said. "If the lymph node is negative, you don’t need to take any more lymph nodes out, and that’s great.”

Julian said the majority of women with early stage breast cancer really don’t need to have lymph nodes removed.

“It’s only about between 20 and 25 percent of women who have breast cancer have lymph nodes that have cancer cells," he said. "So the other 75 to 80 percent don’t, so you’re saving a tremendous number of women a really morbid procedure.”

Julian said the less invasive procedure is ready for wider use. The trial results were presented today in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.