Health Team

Breast cancer patients can opt for less-invasive surgery

Posted February 8, 2011 3:40 p.m. EST
Updated February 8, 2011 6:43 p.m. EST

— Breast cancer surgery often involves removing a large number of lymph nodes, which can cause health complications. But a less invasive procedure removes only a few, cancer-free lymph nodes closest to the tumor.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the health benefits of these procedures.

Bobbie Saunders has been cancer-free for 8 years. After an early breast cancer diagnosis, she had a sentinel node biopsy rather than a more radical surgery that removes a large number of lymph nodes. A sentinel node biopsy removes the tumor and one or two of the nearest lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread to the lymphatic system.

"Removing fewer lymph nodes results in less pain, less morbidity. It's an outpatient procedure compared to an axillary node dissection which typically results in a one or two day hospitalization," said Dr. Armando E. Guiliano of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif.

Researchers studied almost 900 women diagnosed with tumors 5 centimeters or smaller with one or two lymph nodes involved. All of them received radiation and chemotherapy.

Half of them had the more radical lymph node surgery while the others had the more limited operation, but both had a 5-year survival rate of 92 percent.

"You would expect that if you left cancer in the axilla and didn't remove it, the recurrence rate would be higher than that which we saw which was only about 2 percent," Guiliano said.

The high survival rate shows the less radical surgery is effective when combined with other treatments.

"(It achieves) the same results that we've been achieving with the more radical operation," Guiliano said.

Bobbie Saunders isn't looking back.

"(I'm) still very lucky living every day and enjoying every day and thankful that I feel so good," she said.