A Radiation Oncologist's Guide to Axillary Management in Breast Cancer: A Walk Through the Trials

Curr Breast Cancer Rep. 2019 Dec;11(4):293-302. doi: 10.1007/s12609-019-00330-6. Epub 2019 Sep 14.


Purpose of review: The axilla is the most common site for breast cancer nodal metastases. Aggressive management includes axillary lymph node dissection (ALND), radiotherapy, and systemic therapy, but carries the risks of lymphedema and "overtreatment". We review the clinical trials that led to de-escalation of axillary management and their nuances that are often overlooked.

Recent findings: With the rise of sentinel lymph node biopsy, several trials conclude that ALND can be omitted in specific populations. However, the subtleties in those trials, such as the role of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have yet to be clarified. These discussions carry forward into the era of neoadjuvant chemotherapy, where ongoing trials investigate who needs ALND and/or radiation.

Summary: This review examines the clinical trials that form the standard of care, and highlights why axillary management is individualized today.

Keywords: axilla; axillary lymph node dissection; breast cancer; lymph node metastasis; radiotherapy; sentinel lymph node biopsy.