Does the number of lymph nodes examined in patients with lymph node-negative breast carcinoma have prognostic significance?
BACKGROUND: There are conflicting data on the prognostic significance of the number of lymph nodes examined in patients with lymph node-negative breast carcinoma. Therefore, the authors analyzed the impact of the number of tumor-free axillary lymph nodes on disease-free survival (DFS) in two distinct patient populations. METHODS: Eight hundred thirty-three consecutive patients with breast carcinoma who underwent mastectomy between 1927 and 1987 and 1094 consecutive patients with breast carcinoma who underwent with breast-conservation therapy between 1984 and 2001 were diagnosed pathologically with negative axillary lymph node status. Patients were stratified into 4 groups according to the number of lymph nodes examined: Group 1 had 1-3 lymph nodes examined, Group 2 had 4-9 lymph nodes examined, Group 3 had 10-20 lymph nodes examined, and Group 4 had >20 lymph nodes examined. RESULTS: In the mastectomy cohort, with a median follow-up of 153 months, the 10-year DFS rate was 70%, 65%, 79%, and 81% for Groups 1-4, respectively. On multivariate analysis, pathologic tumor size (P<0.001) and the number of lymph nodes examined (P=0.010) were significant predictors for long-term DFS. In the breast-conservation cohort, with a median follow-up of 53 months, the 5-year DFS rate was 90%, 91%, 92%, and 95% for Groups 1-4, respectively. On multivariate analysis, the only predictors of DFS were method of detection (clinically vs. mammographically) (P=0.003) and tumor size (P=0.035). CONCLUSIONS: The recovery of <10 lymph nodes in lymph node-negative patients who underwent mastectomy resulted in a 10-15% decreased long-term DFS rate compared with patients who had a more extensive axillary assessment. However, the number of lymph nodes examined did not have an impact on the DFS rate in a contemporary cohort of patients who underwent breast-conservation therapy, which included radiation.
Salama, JK; Heimann, R; Lin, F; Mehta, N; Chmura, SJ; Singh, R; Kao, J
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