Are positive axillary nodes in breast cancer markers for incurable disease?

Ann Surg. 1993 Sep;218(3):270-5; discussion 275-8. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199309000-00006.


Objective: This study was designed to determine if resection of positive regional nodes in patients with breast cancer provided a group of cured patients.

Summary background data: Previous studies of long-term follow-up of patients with breast cancer have demonstrated that 30% of patients with positive nodes may be alive at 10 or 20 years. Randomized, prospective studies have not shown a difference in survival between modified radical and total mastectomy.

Methods: The authors analyzed the statistical basis of randomized, prospective studies of breast cancer. Patients from University and Kings County Hospital with breast cancer were observed (n = 1024) and the 10-year survival curves were analyzed. Data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program were evaluated to determine the prognosis of patients with positive-node breast cancer who survived 10 and 15 years.

Results: The authors found that no current randomized study of primary treatment of breast cancer has the power to determine the advantage of one treatment over another if the primary cancer is treated. Additionally, evaluation of the patients in this study demonstrated that those with regional disease usually had a recurrence by 7 years; however, at 10 years, 30% are still alive and have the same prognosis as patients with negative-node breast cancer.

Conclusions: Regional breast cancer is a curable disease in some resected patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Axilla
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Mastectomy, Modified Radical
  • Mastectomy, Radical
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate