Background: Randomized trials have not demonstrated a survival benefit for axillary dissection in the elderly, but the use of axillary staging for women 70 years of age and older remains controversial.
Methods: We utilized the National Cancer Data Base to study the use of axillary staging from 2004 to 2010 on 102,026 clinically node-negative and estrogen receptor-positive cases of pT1N0 tumors. Chi-square and logistic regression models were used to determine the trends and factors related to axillary staging.
Results: Axillary nodes were examined in 88.9 % of the total cohort, and the trend significantly increased from 87.7 % in 2004 to 89.2 % in 2010. A total of 77.2 % of patients underwent lumpectomy and 22.8 % mastectomy, with 87.0 % of lumpectomy patients undergoing axillary staging compared to 95.5 % of mastectomy patients. Predictors of axillary staging examined were age, comorbidity, income, histology, grade, facility type, facility location, and population density. The strongest independent predictor of axillary staging was age: 96.0 % of women aged 70-75 years underwent axillary staging, versus 92.3 % of women 75-80 years old, 83.2 % of women 80-85 years old, 66.5 % of women 86-90 years old, and 45.6 % of women >90 years old. Patients treated at academic/research facilities were 18.5 % less likely (odds ratio 0.81, 95 % confidence interval 0.76-0.87) than community cancer programs to undergo axillary staging. There was significant regional variation among U.S. Census regions: patients treated in the Midwest were 3.8 times more likely to undergo axillary staging than those treated in the Northeast.
Conclusions: Despite data indicating decreased utility, axillary staging remains overutilized in women with advancing age.