For patients who require an ALND, the standard evaluation usually involves only a level I and II dissection, thereby removing a satisfactory number of nodes for evaluation (i.e., 6–10 at least), while reducing morbidity from the procedure. Several groups have attempted to define a population of women in whom the probability of nodal metastasis is low enough to preclude axillary node biopsy. In these single-institution case series, the prevalence of positive nodes in patients with T1a tumors ranged from 9% to 16%.[52,53] In another series, the incidence of axillary node relapse in patients with T1a tumors treated without ALND was 2%.[Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Because the axillary node status remains the most important predictor of outcome in breast cancer patients, insufficient evidence is available to recommend that lymph node staging can be omitted in most patients with invasive breast cancer.
For patients who opt for a total mastectomy, reconstructive surgery may be used at the time of the mastectomy (i.e., immediate reconstruction) or at some subsequent time (i.e., delayed reconstruction).[55,56,57,58] Breast contour can be restored by the submuscular insertion of an artificial implant (saline-filled) or a rectus muscle or other flap. If a saline implant is used, a tissue expander can be inserted beneath the pectoral muscle. Saline is injected into the expander to stretch the tissues for a period of weeks or months until the desired volume is obtained. The tissue expander is then replaced by a permanent implant. (Visit the FDA's Web site for more information on breast implants.) Rectus muscle flaps require a considerably more complicated and prolonged operative procedure, and blood transfusions may be required.
Following breast reconstruction, radiation therapy can be delivered to the chest wall and regional nodes either in the adjuvant setting or if local disease recurs. Radiation therapy following reconstruction with a breast prosthesis may affect cosmesis, and the incidence of capsular fibrosis, pain, or the need for implant removal may be increased.
Adjuvant Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is regularly employed after breast-conservation surgery. Radiation therapy also can be indicated for postmastectomy patients. The main goal of adjuvant radiation therapy is to eradicate residual disease thus reducing local recurrence.
Post-breast conservation surgery
For women who are treated with breast-conserving surgery, the most common site of local recurrence is the conserved breast itself. The risk of recurrence in the conserved breast is substantial (>20%) even in confirmed axillary lymph node-negative women. Thus, whole breast radiation therapy after breast-conserving surgery is recommended.
Although all trials assessing the role of radiation therapy in breast-conserving therapy have shown highly statistically significant reductions in local recurrence rate, no single trial has demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in mortality. However, in the 2005 Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group's (EBCTCG) update, when all relevant trials were combined, 15-year breast cancer mortality was reduced from 35.9% to 30.5% in women receiving radiation therapy (absolute difference of 5.4%; 95% CI, 2.1%–8.7%; breast cancer death rate ratio 0.83; 95% CI, 0.75–0.91; P = .002). There was a similar effect on all-cause mortality.