Extracapsular extension in positive axillary lymph nodes in female breast cancer patients. Patterns of failure and indications for postoperative locoregional irradiation

Heidi Stranzl, Ramona Mayer, Petra Ofner, Florentia Peintinger, Ulrike Prettenhofer, Arnulf Hackl
Strahlentherapie und Onkologie: Organ der Deutschen Röntgengesellschaft ... [et Al] 2004, 180 (1): 31-7

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: There has been little information regarding lymph node-positive breast cancer patients with extracapsular extension (ECE). The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of ECE in predicting survival and relapse rates.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: From 1994-2002, 1,078 lymph node-positive women with breast carcinoma were treated at our institution, whereas 301 patients (27.9%) presented with ECE. 91 patients (30.2%) were identified as having three or less lymph nodes involved, 27.9% patients four to six, 15.6% patients seven to nine, and 26.2% patients ten or more nodes, respectively. The median age was 58.4 years (range: 28-84 years) and the median follow-up 34 months (range: 2-99 months). Nodal irradiation was given to patients with four or more positive lymph nodes. Chemotherapy was administered to 69.8%, hormonal therapy to 53.2%, and combined systemic treatment to 26% of patients.

RESULTS: The 1-, 3-, and 5-year overall survival (OS) was 98%, 84%, and 73%, the 1-, 3-, and 5-year disease-free survival (DFS) 95%, 69%, and 58%, and the 1-, 3-, and 5-year metastasis-free survival (MFS) 96%, 73%, and 60%. The relapse rates were 6.6% (local), 0.3% (supraclavicular), 0.7% (isolated axillary), 1% (local + axillary), and 0.7% (local + supraclavicular), respectively. 81 patients (27%) developed distant metastases. In December 2002, 245 patients (81.4%) were alive, 202/245 without progression, 32/245 with distant metastases, 5/245 with local/locoregional recurrence, and 6/245 patients with local and distant failure.

CONCLUSION: Isolated axillary nodal failure remains low in lymph node-positive patients with ECE. Balancing the risks and benefits of irradiation, we continue to recommend that complete axillary irradiation is not routinely indicated after adequate axillary dissection.

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