What Role Do Lymph Nodes Play In The Body
The body has a network of lymphatic channels and lymph nodes that act as a filtration system for fluids, waste, and germs. The vessels are like a highway that circulates lympha clear, watery fluid that brings nutrients to cells. The nodes are like hubs or stops along the highway that detoxify the lymph by fighting off harmful substances. As an integral part of the immune system, lymph nodes play a large role in fighting off infection and disease. There are thousands of lymph nodes throughout the body that are found clustered together, connected by lymphatic vessels throughout the body, in areas such as the groin, underarm , chest, abdomen, etc.
How Can I Protect Myself From Breast Cancer
Follow these three steps for early detection:
- Get a mammogram. The American Cancer Society recommends having a baseline mammogram at age 35, and a screening mammogram every year after age 40. Mammograms are an important part of your health history. Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force came out with new recommendations regarding when and how often one should have mammograms. These include starting at age 50 and having them every two years. We do not agree with this, but we are in agreement with the American Cancer Society and have not changed our guidelines, which recommend yearly mammograms starting at age 40.
- Examine your breasts each month after age 20. You will become familiar with the contours and feel of your breasts and will be more alert to changes.
- Have your breast examined by a healthcare provider at least once every three years after age 20, and every year after age 40. Clinical breast exams can detect lumps that may not be detected by mammogram.
Treatment For Locally Advanced Breast Cancer
Treatment for locally advance breast cancer is likely to include a treatment that affects the whole body .
This might be chemotherapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapy.
If you have previously had chemotherapy, you may be offered different chemotherapy drugs this time.
If you were already taking hormone therapy when your cancer returned, your doctor may consider switching you to a different drug.
Targeted therapies are a group of drugs that block the growth and spread of cancer.
The most widely used targeted therapies are for HER2 positive breast cancer. However, other targeted therapies are available to treat locally advanced breast cancer that is HER2 negative.
Radiotherapy and surgery
You may be offered radiotherapy if cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes above or below the collarbone, under the breastbone or between the ribs. Its not usually possible to remove the cancer using surgery in this situation.
If the recurrence has affected the muscles on the chest wall, surgery may be offered as well as radiotherapy.
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Does Breast Cancer Affect Women Of All Races Equally
All women, especially as they age, are at some risk for developing breast cancer. The risks for breast cancer in general arent evenly spread among ethnic groups, and the risk varies among ethnic groups for different types of breast cancer. Breast cancer mortality rates in the United States have declined by 40% since 1989, but disparities persist and are widening between non-Hispanic Black women and non-Hispanic white women.
Statistics show that, overall, non-Hispanic white women have a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer than women of any other race/ethnicity. The incidence rate for non-Hispanic Black women is almost as high.
Non-Hispanic Black women in the U.S. have a 39% higher risk of dying from breast cancer at any age. They are twice as likely to get triple-negative breast cancer as white women. This type of cancer is especially aggressive and difficult to treat. However, it’s really among women with hormone positive disease where Black women have worse clinical outcomes despite comparable systemic therapy. Non-Hispanic Black women are less likely to receive standard treatments. Additionally, there is increasing data on discontinuation of adjuvant hormonal therapy by those who are poor and underinsured.
In women under the age of 45, breast cancer is found more often in non-Hispanic Black women than in non-Hispanic white women.
What Are The Complications Of Breast Cancer Recurrence
Breast cancer that comes back can be harder to treat. The same therapy isnt always effective again. Tumors can develop a tolerance to certain treatments like chemotherapy. Your healthcare provider will try other therapies. You may be able to try drugs under development in clinical trials.
If breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, your healthcare providers still treat it like breast cancer. For instance, breast cancer cells that move to the lungs cause breast cancer in the lungs not lung cancer. Metastatic breast cancer is more difficult to treat than cancer in only one part of the body.
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Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
In a sentinel lymph node biopsy , the surgeon finds and removes the first lymph node to which a tumor is likely to spread . To do this, the surgeon injects a radioactive substance and/or a blue dye into the tumor, the area around it, or the area around the nipple. Lymphatic vessels will carry these substances along the same path that the cancer would likely take. The first lymph node the dye or radioactive substance travels to will be the sentinel node.
After the substance has been injected, the sentinel node can be found either by using a special machine to detect radioactivity in the nodes, or by looking for nodes that have turned blue. To double check, both methods are often used. The surgeon cuts the skin over the area and removes the node containing the dye or radioactivity.
The few removed lymph nodes are then checked closely for cancer cells by a pathologist. Sometimes, this is done during the surgery. Because there is a chance that other lymph nodes in the same area will also have cancer if cancer is found in the sentinel lymph node, the surgeon may go ahead with a full axillary dissection to remove more lymph nodes while you are still on the operating table. If no cancer cells are seen in the node at the time of the surgery, or if they are not checked by a pathologist at the time of the surgery, they will be examined more closely over the next several days.
Based on the studies that have looked at this, skipping the ALND may be an option for:
Is Lymph Node Cancer Curable
Lymph nodes are a part of our lymphatic system, along with the spleen, thymus gland and the bone marrow. Lymphatic system runs extensively throughout our body. It is an extremely important part of our immune system. The lymphatic system, amongst all its functions, performs an important function of transport of white blood cells in and out of the lymph nodes and the bones. It eventually drains in the chest near the heart. It is an integral part of our bodys defense mechanism.
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Is Breast Cancer That Has Spread To The Lymph Nodes Cureable
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The Role Of Lymph Nodes In Breast Cancer
One of the first places breast cancer can spread to and start growing in is the nearby lymph nodes. The lymphatic system is part of the bodys immune system, which protects against infection and disease. This system is comprised of three elements, the lymph – a clear fluid that circulates through the lymphatic system,lymphatic vessels, and lymph nodes. The primary function of the lymph system is to circulate the lymph, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body to flush out toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials.
When breast cancer cells are multiplying, they can enter the lymphatic vessels located in a womans breast tissue. The lymph fluid then carries these cancerous cells throughout the body. The closest lymph nodes, usually in the underarm area, are often the first place that breast cancer will start to grow outside of the breast.
When an oncologist performs tests and determines that there are breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes, this is called lymph node involvement.
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Less Lymph Node Surgery Equivalent Survival
The trial, called ACOSOG Z0011, was designed to compare whether sentinel lymph node biopsy alone provided equivalent survival benefits to ALND after breast-conserving surgery among a subset of women who also received radiation and systemic therapy. The research team enrolled 891 participants into the study from 1999 to 2004.
Women who had stage I or II cancer and metastases in only one or two sentinel nodes were eligible to join the study. All women had undergone SLNB at the time of breast-conserving surgery.
Half of the trial participants received no further surgery, and the other half underwent ALND. Almost 90% of women in both groups had radiation therapy after surgery, and almost all received some type of systemic therapy.
In the initial results from the trial, published in 2010 and 2011, women who had only SLNB did not have worse overall survival than women who underwent full ALND. The two groups also had similar rates of disease-free survival and cancer recurrence in the lymph nodes.
These early results were absolutely practice changing, and at this point the overwhelming majority of surgeons are not doing a full axillary lymph node dissection in patients with one or two positive nodes, said Larissa Korde, M.D., head of Breast Cancer Therapeutics in NCIs Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis.
However, the cancer research community had lingering concerns about the trial, the authors of the new paper explained.
How Is Breast Cancer Treated
If the tests find cancer, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan to eradicate the breast cancer, to reduce the chance of cancer returning in the breast, as well as to reduce the chance of the cancer traveling to a location outside of the breast. Treatment generally follows within a few weeks after the diagnosis.
The type of treatment recommended will depend on the size and location of the tumor in the breast, the results of lab tests done on the cancer cells, and the stage, or extent, of the disease. Your doctor will usually consider your age and general health as well as your feelings about the treatment options.
Breast cancer treatments are local or systemic. Local treatments are used to remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a specific area, such as the breast. Surgery and radiation treatment are local treatments. Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are systemic treatments. A patient may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on her individual diagnosis.
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Should I Have Regular Routine Scans Or Blood Tests To Check For Distant Breast Cancer Recurrence
No. Routine scans to check for the presence of distant disease recurrence are not recommended in the absence of symptoms
Given the ominous nature of stage 4 disease, the obvious question is, why dont we scan for spread regularly after a first diagnosis, so that we can detect it early if it does return? The reason we dont scan or test for metastasis is that there really is no early stage 4 disease, and thus no real opportunity to intervene earlier and increase the chance of cure. Its also important to know that with recurrence, one does not progress from one stage to the next: a woman who was originally diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer does not recur as stage 2, because once cells have taken up residence elsewhere, she is immediately considered to have stage 4 disease. And with stage 4 disease, either you respond well to treatment and the disease regresses, or you dont and it doesnt. Studies have shown that getting frequent scans after a first cancer diagnosis does not lead to improved survival, which is why we dont scan for stage 4even if we wish we could.
Current guidelines and evidence therefore recommend against routine CT or bone scans, or blood tests, to look for recurrence of cancer in patients who do not have any symptoms or other concerns that need to be followed up on.
If you do have concerning symptoms , then you should bring them to the attention of your healthcare team to be checked out.
Are There Symptoms Of Breast Cancer In The Lymph Nodes
You probably wouldnt notice if a few cancer cells reached a lymph node. As the number of cancer cells grows, symptoms can include lumps or swelling in the armpits or around the collarbone.
Its possible to have enlarged lymph nodes even if you havent discovered a lump in your breast. There are also noncancerous conditions that cause enlarged lymph nodes in an area close to the breasts.
If you notice enlarged lymph nodes but no other symptoms or signs, schedule an appointment with a doctor.
- your genetics or inherited genes
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How Does Breast Cancer Spread
Breast cancer can spread through the lymphatic system, the bloodstream, or uncommonly, by local invasionwhich is when cancer cells actually invade nearby tissues, such as the chest wall or ribs.
When breast cancers spread and enter the lymphatic system, they usually first arrive at nearby lymph nodes and may still be early-stage. The spread of breast cancer to lymph nodes does not necessarily mean that its metastatic, even though pathology reports often somewhat confusingly state breast cancer metastatic to lymph nodes.
A growing cancer may shed a cell or a clump of cells, and It can use your blood or lymph system as a network of highways for traveling. So, if a loose cancer cell makes it via the lymphatic system to your lymph nodes, its also possible that it may spread via the bloodstream to other parts of your body.
When cancer recurs in a lymph node near the breast, it is considered a regional recurrence and not a distant recurrence.
When breast cancer spreads to lymph nodes it has essentially declared its intent to metastasize. Breast cancer reaching the lymph nodes is in effect a declaration that its working to spread further.
In women with negative nodes, its trickier. What we want is a way to identify the 20 to 30 percent who have microscopic cells elsewhere and not over-treat the other 70 percent. At present we dont have a perfect way to do this.
Are There Any Risks To Having Cancerous Lymph Nodes Removed
Removing cancerous lymph nodes can help keep a cancer from spreading further or coming back. But it can sometimes result in lymphedema, a condition where lymph fluid backs up in the part of the body where a node used to be. Lymphedema can cause swelling and nerve discomfort or dysfunction, but the good news is that lymphedema can often be managed or even cured. Your doctor can help you weigh the benefits and risks of having cancerous nodes removed.
Everyones cancer is different and when there is involvement in the lymph nodes, your doctor will take this into account when presenting you with treatment options.
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How Is Cancer In Lymph Nodes Diagnosed
When nodes are enlarged, a doctor may opt to perform a biopsy in which just a sample of the node is removed for testing. A pathologist will then look for cancerous cells within that lymph node.
Cancerous nodes can also be found when a patient undergoes surgery to have all or part of a tumor removed. During the procedure, a doctor might remove one or more nearby lymph nodes. The nodes are then examined to see if theyre cancerous. One technique to evaluate lymph nodes is called a sentinel node biopsy. This is commonly used in breast cancer and melanoma.
Can Cancer Form In Other Parts Of The Breast
Cancers can also form in other parts of the breast, but these types of cancer are less common. These can include:
- Angiosarcomas. This type of cancer begins in the cells that make up the lining of blood or lymph vessels. These cancers can start in breast tissue or breast skin. They are rare.
- Inflammatory breast cancer. This type of cancer is rare and different from other types of breast cancer. It is caused by obstructive cancer cells in the skins lymph vessels.
- Paget disease of the breast, also known as Paget disease of the nipple. This cancer affects the skin of the nipple and areola .
- Phyllodes tumors. These are rare, and most of these masses are not cancer. However, some are cancerous. These tumors begin in the breasts connective tissue, which is called the stroma.
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Am I Still At Risk Of Local Recurrence If I Have Had A Mastectomy
Yes. Local recurrence can also happen after a mastectomy, although the likelihood is usually low.
Some of the signs of local recurrence after mastectomy include
- A lump or raised bump in or under the skin, especially near the previous mastectomy scar
- Changes to the skin, including redness or thickening
After reconstruction a local recurrence can appear at the suture line of the flap or in front of the implant. When its in the skin itself, it is red and raised. Reconstruction rarely if ever hides a recurrence. With implants, the recurrences are in front of the implant. With a flap, the recurrences are not in the flap itself but along the edge of the breast skin.
Local recurrence after mastectomy is often described as a chest wall recurrence, which isnt entirely accurate because it implies that the cancer is in the muscle or bone. But usually such a recurrence appears in the skin and fat where the breast was before, and only rarely does it include the muscle.
Ninety percent of local recurrences following mastectomy happen within the first five years after the mastectomy. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of women with local recurrences after mastectomy have already been diagnosed with metastatic disease, and another 20 to 30 percent will develop it within a few months of diagnosis. Therefore, just as with local recurrences after breast conservation, tests should be done to look for distant disease.