Size of breast cancer metastases in axillary lymph nodes: Clinical relevance of minimal lymph node involvement

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Background: Overt ipsilateral axillary lymph node metastases of breast cancer are the most significant prognostic indicators for women who have undergone surgery, yet the clinical relevance of minimal involvement (isolated tumor cells and micrometastases) of these nodes is uncertain. Patients and Methods: We evaluated biologic features, adjuvant treatment recommendations, and prognosis for 1,959 consecutive patients with pT1-3, pN0, minimal lymph node involvement (pN1mi or pN0i+), or pN1a (single positive node) and M0, who were operated on and counseled for medical therapy from April 1997 to December 2000. Results: Patients with pN1a and pN1mi/pN0i+, when compared with patients with pN0 disease, were more often prescribed anthracycline-containing chemotherapy (39.1% v 33.2% v 6.1%, respectively; P <.0001) and were less likely to receive endocrine therapy alone (9.8% v 19.4% v 41.9%, respectively; P <.0001). At the multivariate analysis, a statistically significant difference in disease-free survival (DFS) and in the risk of distant metastases was observed for patients with pN1a versus pN0 disease (hazard ratio [HR] = 2.04; 95% CI, 1.46 to 2.86; P <.0001 for DFS; HR = 2.32; 95% CI, 1.42 to 3.80; P = .0007 for distant metastases) and for patients with pN1mi/pN0i+ versus pN0 disease (HR = 1.58; 95% CI, 1.01 to 2.47; P = .047 for DFS; HR = 1.94; 95% CI, 1.04 to 3.64; P = .037 for distant metastases). Conclusion: Even minimal involvement of a single axillary node in breast cancer significantly correlates with worse prognosis compared with no axillary node involvement. Further studies are required before widespread modification of clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1379-1389
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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