Breast surgeons may not have to take such an aggressive approach to lymph node analysis in breast cancer patients, according to a study released from the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, found that in most cases, further testing of lymph nodes in women with breast cancer after an initial exam can be unnecessary, and does not influence whether hidden metastases were found later in the patients studied.
The researchers from the University of Vermont collected data from more than 3,900 breast cancer patients in order to find if there was a difference in the survival rate of women who had additional lymph node testing and those who did not.
The results showed that five years after treatment, there was only a 1.2 percent difference in survival between the two groups of patients.
The close numbers led researchers to conclude that although more studies are needed, doctors may not have to study lymph nodes as aggressively.
Dr. Katherine Lee, a women’s health expert at the Cleveland Clinic, who did not participate in the study, said that the debate over lymph node testing is nothing new.
"The debate has been going on for a couple of years now, at least, trying to determine how aggressive is too aggressive? And how do we treat these cancer cells that are found in these lymph nodes that we didn't initially find? That's the important question here. And this study suggests that maybe we don't have to treat all of these lymph nodes that may have a little bit of cancer cells detected in them," Lee said.