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Routine Breast Cancer Treatment Questioned

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It's long been accepted practice for doctors to remove cancerous lymph nodes from the armpits of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in the belief that doing so would prolong their lives. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center throw that practice into question, says the New York Times' Denise Grady. The new findings suggest that for about 20 percent of women who fit certain criteria, the removal of these nodes does not affect survival or recurrence rates, and can even be harmful, leading to complications like infection and lymphedema, Grady says. Plus, the women in the study had undergone chemotherapy and radiation, which had already wiped out cancer in the nodes, she adds. Some clinicians have already altered their practices as a result of this new study and others like it that showed similar results; Sloan-Kettering says its doctors knew the results of the study before it was published and consequently, they changed their protocols in September. The new results don't apply to all women, Grady adds, but only women with early-stage tumors who have had lumpectomies, radiation, and chemotherapy.

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