Management of the Axilla and the Breast After Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy in Patients with Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review

Sisli Etfal Hastan Tip Bul. 2021 Jul 2;55(2):156-161. doi: 10.14744/SEMB.2021.77010. eCollection 2021.


Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. Breast cancer is traditionally treated with surgery, plus adjuvant systemic therapy and radiotherapy as required. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT) for the treatment of breast cancer is used for locally advanced operable breast cancer to reduce the tumor size, to perform breast conserving surgery, and to perform a limited axillary approach. Adjuvant chemotherapy for the treatment of inflammatory breast cancer and even in inoperable breast cancer is used to increase overall survival time and to delay disease progression while relieving symptoms. NACT for breast cancer is a new strategy that was introduced toward the end of the 20th century and is increasingly used in the treatment of breast cancer. At present, NACT is increasingly being used to reduce the need for axillary dissection and to convert patients with large tumors to candidates for breast conservation therapy in both locally advanced and operable breast cancers. Breast conserving procedures are currently more preferred by surgeons and axillary dissection is being replaced by sentinel lymph node biopsy after chemotherapy. One of the targets of neoadjuvant systemic therapy is to try to perform a less aggressive surgery by breast conservation, mainly for cosmetic reasons and avoiding axillary dissection mainly for arm mobility, pain, and lymphedema risk. The other target of neoadjuvant systemic therapy is to see the response of the tumor to chemotherapy and determine the treatment accordingly. Neoadjuvant systemic therapy increases the rate of complete pathological response by clearing the breast and axilla from tumor cells before surgery. In this review, we examine the key points of using the NACT in breast cancer, considering radiological imaging methods, surgical management, and reconstruction after NACT.

Keywords: Axillary dissection; breast cancer; neoadjuvant chemotherapy; pathological complete response; radiotherapy; reconstruction; surgery.

Publication types

  • Review