Breast carcinoma presenting as axillary metastases without evidence of a primary tumor

M. Merson, S. Andreola, V. Galimberti, R. Bufalino, S. Marchini, U. Veronesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Sixty cases of axillary metastases from clinically occult breast cancer were analyzed. All cases had histologic evidence of metastatic nodes compatible with breast carcinoma. Methods. Thirty-three patients underwent breast surgery at the time of histologic diagnosis of the axillary metastases, 6 patients were treated with radiation therapy to the breast, and 17 patients did not receive any immediate treatment of the breast carcinoma (9 of these subsequently had a primary breast carcinoma) during the follow- up. Thirty-seven of 60 patients underwent adjuvant therapy (29 underwent chemotherapy and 8 underwent tamoxifen therapy). From the histologic point of view, the number of metastatic nodes was 1 in 13 patients, 2 to 3 in 10 patients, and 4 or more in 23 patients; the number of metastatic nodes was not evaluable in 14 cases. Invasion was extranodal in 92% of cases. Eighty- six percent of cases were histologically classified as Grade 3 according to Bloom and Richardson. Results. The 5-year and 10-year survival rates were 77% and 58%, respectively. The comparison between the survival curves of the patients treated with immediate surgery/radiation therapy and of the patients whose cases were followed-up without treatment to the breast showed no difference. Adjuvant treatments did not improve prognoses. Conclusions. The coexistence of a minimal (or unidentifiable) primary carcinoma with an extensive involvement of axillary nodes and a predominance of the undifferentiated histologic type, together with an unexpectedly good prognosis, makes this type of presentation an interesting example of a dissociated host resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-508
Number of pages5
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1992


  • axillary metastases
  • breast cancer
  • occult primary
  • prognosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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