Less invasive cancer surgery gets boost

Associated Press / September 21, 2010

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LONDON — Some breast cancer patients may do as well with a less invasive surgery to remove selected lymph nodes as with the aggressive operation normally used to remove them all, a study says.

In the biggest trial yet to compare the two procedures, North American researchers found early breast cancer patients don’t need the more interventionist surgery to live longer.

Most patients with such cancer have surgery to remove the disease. Doctors sometimes decide to get rid of all the lymph nodes to better control the cancer because if the disease spreads, it usually goes first to the nearby lymph nodes.

Researchers also think there is a relationship between the number of lymph nodes affected and how aggressive a cancer is.

But the invasive operation, an axillary-lymph node dissection, often comes with severe side effects such as nerve damage.

Doctors can use another surgery to remove only the first set of lymph nodes, or the sentinel lymph nodes under the arm, but many physicians have assumed the more aggressive surgery gives women a better shot at staying alive.

The study dealt only with victims of early breast cancer, not women needing a mastectomy.

US and Canadian scientists monitored 5,611 early breast cancer patients whose disease had not yet spread to their lymph nodes. About half were assigned to get both surgeries. The other half had operations to remove only some of their lymph nodes.

After tracking the patients for eight years, doctors found no difference in the patients’ survival rates.

The study was published today in Lancet Oncology.

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