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New Test Better Predicts Breast Cancer Spread

Sentinel Node Biopsy Has Fewer Complications Than Older Technique

Breast Cancer Test Proves Reliable

Julian studied 5,260 women; all had a sentinel node biopsy. Half then went on to have the standard procedure where multiple lymph nodes are removed. The other half only had the more aggressive procedure if the sentinel node contained cancer.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy involves injecting a dye, which migrates to the lymph node or nodes most likely to have cancer cells in a woman with breast cancer. If the lymph node or nodes show no sign of cancer, it's almost certain that the cancer has not spread beyond the breast.

One of the biggest worries with sentinel node biopsy is false negatives -- when no cancer is found in the key nodes, even though cancer is present.

But the study shows that in women undergoing sentinel node biopsy, only nine in 100 women would have been told there was no cancer present when it in fact was -- an acceptable false negative rate, Julian says. With axillary node dissection, it ranges from 2% to over 10%, he says.

Doctors had a harder time finding the sentinel nodes in women who were over 50 years old or who had large tumors (over 5 cm), he adds.

Julian suggests people with breast cancer ask their doctors these questions before undergoing the procedure:

  • Have you completed a training program?
  • What's your accuracy rate? How does it match others?
  • How many procedures have you done?

Armed with the answers to these questions, patients can make an informed choice, he says.

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