(NaturalNews) The common practice of removing the lymph nodes of breast cancer patients does nothing to reduce the rate of cancer recurrence, according to a study conducted by researchers from the John Wayne Cancer Institute and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In about one-third of breast cancer cases, the cancer spreads to one or more lymph nodes in the body. In these cases, doctors normally recommend surgical removal of the lymph nodes in the armpits, regardless of whether the cancer has spread to those particular nodes or not. This surgery is meant to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, but it is painful and leads to a more difficult recovery. In addition, many women whose lymph nodes have been removed suffer from complications such as infection and a chronic, disabling swelling in the arms called lymphedema.
"Of the 161,000 women with breast cancer who have lymph nodes removed every year, 35 to 40 percent develop lymphedema," writes Phyllis A. Balch in the book Prescription for Herbal Healing.
"If a tumor and the adjacent lymph nodes are removed, the natural drainage of lymphatic fluid through that area is blocked. Fluid accumulates and becomes stagnant in the tissues of the limb closest to the obstruction. The limb may then swell to several times its normal size. Lymphedema is made even worse by recurrence of cancer, as tumors attract sodium and cause fluid retention."
In the current study, researchers compared women who had been treated for breast cancer at 115 different locations across the United States. All participants had cancer that had spread to lymph nodes but no further, and had relatively small tumors (classified as T1 or T2). The researchers found no significant difference in cancer recurrence rates between the 445 women whose lymph nodes had been removed and the 446 women whose lymph nodes had been left in place.
Based on the new study, as many as 70 percent of women who have lymph node removal recommended may now opt to forego the surgery, said Gary Lyman of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"This is good news," Lyman said. "It's a substantial number of women."