How Do Doctors Know if Breast Cancer Has Spread to the Lymph Nodes?

Question: What are the methods used to investigate whether breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes?

Answer: To test whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes in breast cancer, it is necessary to remove some of the lymph nodes under the armpit. Non-invasive tests such as ultrasounds, MRIs, or PET scans have not proven sufficiently accurate to give women the information they need to plan their subsequent chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

Traditionally we've had to remove all the lymph nodes under the armpits -- about 15 to 20 lymph nodes; and over the last ten years, it's been proven that we can target the same lymph nodes that may have cancer in them, by doing what's called a 'sentinel lymph node biopsy,' and only remove an average of about three lymph nodes. Removing these fewer number of lymph nodes markedly reduces the pain, discomfort, and potential for long-term side effects for lymph node surgery, and it's been a major advance in the treatment of breast cancer.

Next: When Is A Sentinel Node Biopsy Considered, and When Is An Axillary Lymph Node Dissection Necessary?

Previous: What Are Lymph Nodes and What Do They Do?
-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 3656556. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 3656556. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 3656556. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 3656556.
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
United States Carli Lloyd celebrates with teammates Ali Krieger and Morgan Brian after scoring on a penalty kick against Germany during the second half of a semifinal in the Womens World Cup finals, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Montreal, Canada.
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP
Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
PHOTO: In this image released by Lionsgate, Theo James, from left, Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller appear in a scene from The Divergent Series: Insurgent.
Andrew Cooper/Lionsgate/AP Photo
PHOTO: Venus and Jupiter rise together in a rare conjunction over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in the early morning of Aug. 18, 2014 in New York.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images