Important Study Could Change Breast Cancer Surgery Approach

A long-standing surgical routine affecting tens of thousands of women every year may be changing because of a new study and others like it.  The newest study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has the potential to provide new options for women facing treatment for early stage breast cancers.  It found that routine removal of the lymph nodes in someone’s armpit (known as an axillary lymph node dissection, or ALND) doesn’t improve survival or recurrence rates, and is not necessary for some women.

This means that a significant percentage of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients could avoid this painful surgery, which carries serious side effects — the most common of which is lymphedema, an incurable swelling in the arm that can range from mild to disabling. Women in the study who had their nodes removed also were much more susceptible (70% vs. 25%) to complications such as infections, strange sensations and abnormal fluid buildup in the armpit, the study found.

This study and similar recent research are a continuation of a trend toward less invasive surgery for women with breast cancer, and will provide new treatment options for many women. We encourage women to have a frank discussion with their surgeons about whether this approach is suitable for them.  We expect that this option will be available first at major breast centers and with surgeons who specialize in breast cancer surgery.

In a TIME article, our president, Liz Thompson joins the study’s authors in discussing the implications on those affected by breast cancer.

“Patients may or may not be ready because we have been taught that with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, more is better.”
-Liz Thompson, president of Susan G. Komen for the Cure®

We have invested $2.5 million researching the causes and potential treatments for lymphedema and has also funded studies into the use of sentinel lymph nodes as an alternative to axillary node dissection.

Learn more about lymph node status, SNB and ALND here.

About the author

Susan G. Komen has written 343 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.

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