Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology

, Volume 143, Issue 9, pp 1823–1831 | Cite as

Personalized axillary dissection: the number of excised lymph nodes of nodal-positive breast cancer patients has no significant impact on relapse-free and overall survival

  • Florian EbnerEmail author
  • Achim Wöckel
  • Wolfgang Janni
  • Rolf Kreienberg
  • Lukas Schwentner
  • Manfred Wischnewsky
Original Article – Clinical Oncology



Sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy has replaced axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) for the staging of clinically node-negative breast cancer patients (BCP), demonstrating equivalent survival to ALND while resulting in reduced morbidity. ALND has remained the standard of care for the majority of BCP with clinical axillary metastases or metastases found on SLN biopsy. More recently, it is debated whether ALND could be avoided not only in SLN-negative BCP but also in selected SLN-positive disease or even in all patients. This analysis of pN+ BCP shows the impact of the number of excised lymph nodes on RFS and OAS adjusted by age, tumor size, intrinsic subtypes and adjuvant systemic therapy.


In this retrospective, multicenter cohort study, we investigated data from 2992 pN+ primary BCP recruited from 17 participating certified breast cancer centers in Germany between 2001 and 2008 within the BRENDA study group.


The median number of excised lymph nodes was 17. The number of excised lymph nodes was neither significant for RFS (p = 0.085) nor for OAS (p = 0.285). Adjustments were made for age, tumor size and intrinsic subtypes. The most important significant parameters for RFS were intrinsic subtypes (p < 0.001) and tumor size (p < 0.001) and for OAS age (p < 0.001) and intrinsic subtypes (p < 0.001). There were no significant differences in RFS and OAS in any subgroup stratified by the number of excised lymph nodes. Only for T3/T4 tumors, there is a very small significant advantage of ALND for RFS but not for OAS. After adjusting in addition by guideline adherence of adjuvant systemic therapy (AST), intrinsic subtypes and guideline-adherent AST are the most important significant (p < 0.001) parameters for RFS and OAS.


The number of excised lymph nodes of pN+ BCP neither correlates with RFS nor with OAS. Survival of pN+ BCP is primarily determined by the biology and the guideline-adherent AST based on the corresponding intrinsic subtypes. These results support the omission of a radical ALND at least for pN+ patients scheduled for breast-conserving surgery (not mastectomy), provided they receive whole breast irradiation and guideline-adherent AST.


Breast cancer Lymph node Sentinel node Axillary lymph node dissection Survival 



We express our thanks to the following persons for their contributions to the BRENDA study: Karsten Gnauert (Ostalbklinikum, Aalen), Steffen Fritz (Kreisklinik Biberach), Ulf Göretzlehner (Kreiskrankenhaus Ehingen), Hans-Walter Vollert (Städt. Krankenhaus Friedrichshafen), Peter Jakob Albert (Klinikum Heidenheim), Ricardo Felberbaum (Klinikum Kempten), Andreas Zorr (Klinikum Konstanz), Felix Flock (Klinikum Memmingen), Erik Schlicht (Stauferklinik, Mutlangen), Martina Gropp-Meier (Oberschwabenklinik Ravensburg), Gerhard Bartzke (Kreiskrankenhaus Rottweil), Andreas Rempen (Diakonie-Krankenhaus, Schwäbisch Hall), Edgar Schelble (Kreiskrankenhaus Sigmaringen), Theodor Dinkelacker (Helfenstein-Klinik Geislingen), Andreas Grüneberger (Oberschwabenklinik Wangen) and Thorsten Kühn (Städt. Kliniken, Esslingen).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that there are no potential conflicts of interest, including any financial, personal or other relationships with people or organizations that could inappropriately influence this work.

Funding source

This study was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF-Grant-01ZP0505). Open image in new window

Ethical approval

This study and the BRENDA project have been approved by the ethics committee of the University of Ulm.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Florian Ebner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Achim Wöckel
    • 2
  • Wolfgang Janni
    • 1
  • Rolf Kreienberg
    • 1
  • Lukas Schwentner
    • 1
  • Manfred Wischnewsky
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Gynaecology and ObstetricsUniversity of UlmUlmGermany
  2. 2.Department of Gynaecology and ObstetricsUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  3. 3.Department of Mathematics and Computer ScienceUniversity of BremenBremenGermany

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