Background: Debate regarding axillary dissection in the treatment of women with small invasive cancers of the breast has been increasing. Recently, omission of axillary dissection has been proposed because of the reported low incidence of nodal metastases in women with such cancers. Variation in the incidence of nodal metastases in T1 breast cancers is examined and discussed with regard to a selective approach to lymphadenectomy.
Methods: The literature was reviewed, and cases of 2185 women with T1 breast cancers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts were analyzed.
Results: The incidence of axillary nodal metastases in T1 breast cancer varies among series and ranges from 3% to 37%. The probability of nodal metastases depends on tumor grade and patient age as well as tumor size.
Conclusions: T1 breast cancers are not equivalent in their risk of associated axillary metastases. A treatment algorithm for selective axillary node dissection in patients with T1 breast cancers is proposed. Future applications of this type of algorithm are discussed with respect to sentinel node biopsy.