Does sentinel lymphadenectomy improve staging and alter therapy in elderly women with breast cancer?

L. Andrew DiFronzo, Nora M. Hansen, Stacey L. Stern, Meghan B. Brennan, Armando E. Giuliano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Routine axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) for elderly women with invasive breast cancer has been questioned because it rarely alters therapy yet carries a significant morbidity rate. Sentinel lymphadenectomy (SLND) improves axillary staging and alters therapy in women with T1 breast cancer, but it is not clear whether SLND alters therapy in elderly women with breast cancer. Methods: A prospective breast cancer data base was used to identify women 70 years old and older who underwent SLND for axillary staging of invasive breast cancer between 1991 and 1998. Results: There were 75 invasive breast cancers in 73 women. The mean patient age was 74.5 years (range, 70-90 years). Median tumor size was 1.4 cm (range, 0.1-6.2 cm). Of the 75 tumors, 42 (56%) had favorable primary characteristics; the remaining tumors had unfavorable characteristics. SLND was performed alone in 17 cases (23%) and was followed by completion ALND in 58 cases (77%). Positive lymph nodes were identified in 32 cases (43%); 26 (81.3%) were detected by hematoxylin and eosin stains, and 6 (18.7%) were detected by immunohistochemistry alone. Five patients (6.9%) received adjuvant chemotherapy. Seven patients (9.6%) received axillary/supraclavicular radiation for positive nodes. Ten (13.7%) of 73 patients had obvious alterations in therapy because of axillary nodal status. As a result of SLND, 3 (13.6%) of 22 patients with tumors 1.0 cm or smaller received tamoxifen, and 7 (15%) of 46 patients with tumors between 1.0 and 3.0 cm in size had changes in therapy. When patient and tumor characteristics were analyzed to determine relationships to therapeutic decision-making, nodal status was the variable most significantly associated with changes in therapy (P = .0001). Conclusions: SLND improves axillary staging in elderly women with invasive breast cancer. Results of immunohistochemistry do not alter therapy in this group of individuals (P = .6367). In patients with small primary tumors, SLND alters therapy by increasing the number of patients receiving tamoxifen. In addition, SLND affects adjuvant systemic chemotherapy and regional radiotherapy in a significant number of patients with larger tumors, particularly tumors between 1.0 and 3.0 cm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)406-410
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of surgical oncology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2000


  • Breast cancer
  • Elderly
  • Sentinel node

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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