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Greg Webb
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Breast Cancer – Lymph Node Study: Fewer Nodes Should Be Removed…

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The latest study results on breast cancer surgery were released two weeks ago finding that fewer lymph nodes should be removed in the case of a cancer that has not spread too far, compared with that which may have typically been removed in the past. Accordingly, it is fair to surmise that many people who have suffered with breast cancer and who have had their breasts radically removed may now be asking, “Did I do the right thing?” If you are one of the latter women, then you may feel comforted by the fact that you likely made the best decision possible at the time, based upon existing medicine and conventional wisdom. Perhaps, however, conventional wisdom in the area of breast cancer may now be shifting.

According to Denise Grady’s article in The New York Times of February 8, 2011, “taking out cancerous nodes has no advantage. It does not change the treatment plan, improve survival or make the cancer less likely to recur.”

For more than 100 years, the practice of removing as many lymph nodes (from under the armpit of the affected breast) as possible was thought to be providential by most surgeons. Now, the results of a new study paid for by the National Cancer Institute and published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association – "JAMA" – (the lead author is Dr. Armando E. Giuliano, Chief of Surgical Oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute, St. John’s Health Center, Santa Monica, CA) have turned the medical world on its ear! This particular study involved 115 medical centers and included 891 patients, whose median age was in the mid-50s and who were followed for an average of 6.3 years.

This study is definitely the biggest “Ah-hah!” moment in the recent surgical treatment of breast cancer– those who suffer from breast cancer will be paying close attention to additional reviews of these results. The results reflect a trend which began in the mid-1980s in moving away from radical surgery and mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) and toward less invasive treatments such as lumpectomy. Grant W. Carlson, M.D., professor of surgery at Emory University, is quoted as saying “that by routinely removing the lymph nodes, ‘I have a feeling we’ve been doing a lot of harm.’”