Screen-detected breast cancers are smaller than those detected in symptomatic populations and, for any given size, they are associated with fewer lymph node metastases. The management of axillary lymph nodes in patients with screen-detected breast cancer remains controversial. We have previously reported that prevalence (initial screen)-detected cancers are associated with nodal metastases in 17.4% of cases overall. Cancers < or = 10 mm, of any grade, are associated with metastases in only 5% of cases, and grade I cancers <30 mm are not associated with metastases. This led to our recommendation that axillary surgery is unnecessary for these groups of women. The present study compared the nodal status of cancers detected at the prevalence and first incidence (second) screens in order to determine whether our recommendation is appropriate for cancers detected at the first incidence screen. Overall, 30.1% of cancers detected in the first incidence screen presented axillary nodal metastases. At all size ranges, cancers detected at the first incidence screen were associated with significantly more lymph node metastases than prevalence-detected cancers. In particular, cancers < or = 10 mm were associated with metastases in 14.3% of cases. With the possible exception of grade I cancers, we believe that surgical staging of the axilla is essential for cancers detected at the first incidence screen, irrespective of size.
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Holland, P., Walls, J., Boggis, C. et al. A comparison of axillary node status between cancers detected at the prevalence and first incidence breast screening rounds. Br J Cancer 74, 1643–1646 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1038/bjc.1996.602
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