A study published in the journal Cancer showed that not all women with breast cancer need to have their underarm lymph nodes removed. Generally, the lymph nodes have been removed to determine whether or not the cancer is spreading.
The removal of these nodes often leads to lymphedema, an uncomfortable swelling of the arm that is difficult to treat. Avoiding the removal of the lymph nodes would not only prevent this uncomfortable ailment, but it would also defray some of the costs associated with the treatment of the cancer.
The study done by Dr.Douglas Maibenco of Detroit Medical Center/Sinai Hospital reviewed information from almost 13,000 breast cancer patients who had had their lymph nodes removed. The study found that the likelihood that the cancer would spread depended on many factors including the size of the tumor, the tumor’s characteristics, the tumor’s grade, and the age of the patient. Subsequently, it is not necessary to remove the lymph nodes to determine these factors.