Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Lymph Node Removal a Necessary Step for Breast Cancer Treatment?

A recent study released in February discusses the need for removal of lymph nodes, where the cancer had metastasized to the nodes, in Breast Cancer patients. This study conducted by researchers from the John Wayne Cancer Institute and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association tries to show whether the removal of lymph nodes is a necessary step in Breast cancer treatment. Interestingly, researchers found that Axilary Lymph Node Dissection (ALND), which is a lymph removal surgery, does not increase the survival rate in Breast cancer patients. This is extremely controversial because current practice is to remove as much of the cancerous tissues as possible. However, the statistical analysis of new studies has proven that:
“about 92% of women with early-stage breast cancers that have spread to a nearby lymph node who have lumpectomies and radiation to treat their tumors will be alive five years later, whether or not they have multiple lymph nodes removed from under their arms, a procedure called an axillary lymph node dissection.”

In my opinion, these findings are strong enough to change the current policy in Breast cancer treatment since the overall survival rate of the ALND group of patients did not show a big difference comparing to other groups. Also, losing Lymph Nodes can have side effects in some patients. For example, Lymphedema, which is the painful swelling in arms after removal of axillary lymph nodes, is one of the results of ALND.
“Of the 161,000 women with breast cancer who have lymph nodes removed every year, 35 to 40 percent develop lymphedema” writes Phyllis A.Blach in the book Prescription for Herbal Healing.
In addition, from a patient’s perspective having less surgery means less pain and less cost. Therefore, a change in recent guiding principle could have some positive impacts in future patients’ life.