Researchers report that for 20% of breast cancer patients (about 40,000 women in the U.S. each year), removing cancerous lymph nodes does not improve their outcome. It’s been long-reported that women who have lymph nodes removed—a surgery known as axillary dissection— often suffer painful complications such as infection, swelling in the arm, limited range of motion, and fluid in the armpit.
According to The Times, the new findings reflect a trend of “an evolving understanding of breast cancer. In decades past, there was a belief that surgery could ‘get it all’—eradicate the cancer before it could spread to organs and bones…The modern approach is to cut out obvious tumors—because lumps big enough to detect may be too dense for drugs and radiation to destroy—and to use radiation and chemotherapy to wipe out microscopic disease in other places.” Several of the surgeons they interviewed commented that it will take time before the medical community embraces this “less is more” approach to breast cancer treatment.
The study was spearheaded by a surgeon, Dr. Armando E. Giuliano, chief of surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, who saw women suffering from the painful side effects of lymph node surgery and was inspired to compare the outcomes of women with and without axillary dissection. His initial hunch paid off: For a certain group of women with breast cancer, the findings could ease their recovery and reduce complications.
To find out more, read The New York Times article.