Health updates: Lymph node study

February 24, 2012

Breast health, Cancer

The following is new information with respect to breast cancer patients who have had armpit lymph nodes removed. Researchers found that in about 20 percent of patients, which amounts to approximately 40,000 women a year, removing lymph nodes was unnecessary, and instead, increased risks of infection and lymphedema, a swelling in the arm that can become disabling.

Lymph node study shakes pillar of breast cancer care

A new study has shown that many women with early breast cancer do not actually benefit from the removal of armpit lymph nodes, a painful procedure that has been a routine practice for 100 years. For about 20 percent of patients, removing the nodes has no advantage — it neither improves survival nor makes the cancer less likely to recur. What is more, the procedure can cause complications, such as infection and lymphedema. According to The New York Times: “Experts say that the new findings, combined with similar ones from earlier studies, should change medical practice for many patients. Some centers have already acted on the new information … But more widespread change may take time, experts say, because the belief in removing nodes is so deeply ingrained.”

In separate news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), after an intensive review of known cases of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in breast implant recipients, has issued a statement warning that women with implants may have an increased risk of developing the cancer. The FDA and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons are working together to establish a registry of ALCL patients who have breast implants. The FDA scientists hope the registry provides enough information to better understand the risks. According to the FDA: “In the cases reported, ALCL was typically diagnosed years after the implant surgery. In most of these cases, the women were diagnosed after they observed changes in the look or feel of the area surrounding the implant.”


Sources: FDA January 2011, Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL) in Women with Breast Implants: Preliminary FDA Findings and Analyses January 2011, JAMA February 9, 2011;305(6):569-75, The New York Times February 8, 2011 and February 21, 2011.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 30, Number 2, April/May 2011.

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