Can We Identify or Exclude Extensive Axillary Nodal Involvement in Breast Cancer Patients Preoperatively?

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Background. Breast cancer treatment has rapidly changed in the last few years. Particularly, treatment of patients with axillary nodal involvement has evolved after publication of several randomized clinical trials. Omitting axillary lymph node dissection in selected early breast cancer patients with one or two positive sentinel nodes did not compromise overall survival nor regional disease control in these trials. Hence, either excluding or identifying extensive axillary nodal involvement becomes increasingly important. Purpose. To evaluate whether the current diagnostic modalities can accurately identify or exclude extensive axillary nodal involvement. Evaluated modalities were axillary ultrasound, ultrasound-guided needle biopsy, MRI, and PET/CT. Methods. A literature search was performed in the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, and PubMed databases up to June 2019. The search strategy included terms for breast cancer, lymph nodes, and the different imaging modalities. Only articles that reported pathological N-stage or the total number of positive axillary lymph nodes were considered for inclusion. Studies with patients undergoing neoadjuvant systemic therapy were excluded. Conclusion. There is no evidence that any of the current preoperative axillary imaging modalities can accurately exclude or identify breast cancer patients with extensive nodal involvement. Both negative PET/CT and negative MRI scans (with gadolinium-based contrast agents) are promising in excluding extensive nodal involvement. Larger studies should be performed to strengthen this conclusion. False-negative rates of axillary ultrasound and ultrasound-guided needle biopsy are too high to rely on negative results of these modalities in excluding extensive nodal involvement.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8404035
JournalJournal of Oncology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2019

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