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Axillary lymph node micrometastases in invasive breast cancer: national figures on incidence and overall survival

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Grabau D, Jensen MB, Rank F, Blichert-Toft M. Axillary lymph node micrometastases in invasive breast cancer: national figures on incidence and overall survival. APMIS 2007;115:828–37.

The purpose of this study was to estimate the incidence and prognostic value of axillary lymph node micrometastases (Nmic) of 2 mm or less in breast carcinomas. Results are based on data from the Danish Breast Cancer Cooperative Group (DBCG). The study was carried out as a nationwide, population-based trial with a study series consisting of 6,959 women under 75 years of age registered in the national DBCG data base from 1 January 1990 to 31 October 1994. All patients had contracted operable primary breast carcinoma, stage I–III, classified according to the TNM system as T1-T3, N0-N1, M0. Women with four or more metastatic axillary lymph nodes were excluded. All patients were treated systematically according to approved national guidelines and treatment protocols. Metastases were recognized microscopically on haematoxylin and eosin-stained sections. In case of doubt immunohistochemical staining for cytokeratin was performed. There was no serial sectioning. Micrometastases were tumour deposits of 2 mm or smaller, and accordingly included deposits of 0.2 mm and smaller. With a median observation time of 10 years and 2 months, women with Nmic (N=427) experienced a significantly worse overall survival (OS) compared with node-negative (Nneg) women (N=4,767) (relative risk (RR)=1.20, 95% CI: 1.01–1.43), irrespective of menopausal status. Women with macrometastases (Nmac) (N=1,765) had significantly worse final outcome than women with Nmic (RR=1.54, 95% CI: 1.29–1.85), irrespective of menopausal status. Multivariate analysis adjusted for patient-, histopathologic-, and loco-regional therapeutic variables showed that cases with Nmic had a significantly higher risk of death relative to Nneg cases (adjusted RR=1.49, 95% CI: 1.18–1.90). Interaction analysis showed that the number of nodes examined had a significant impact on adjusted relative risk of death according to axillary status. Furthermore, the number of nodes involved significantly influenced adjusted risk of death in the Nmic compared to the Nmac series. In conclusion, the results of the present study revealed worse final outcome in women with Nmic compared with Nneg, where all Nmic cases received adjuvant systemic treatment. Interaction analysis showed that the number of retrieved axillary nodes and the number of affected nodes had a different influence on survival related to axillary status. The different risk pattern in Nmic vs Nmac patients indicates that Nmic cases do not show the traditional risk pattern as revealed by the Nmac cases, in which increasing number of positive nodes is associated with an orderly increasing adjusted RR.
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Keywords: Breast carcinoma; axillary micrometastases; incidence; overall survival

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: DBCG Secretariat, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: 2007-07-01

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