Palpation of the axillary nodes in breast cancer: What does the surgeon feel?
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The findings on routine pre-operative palpation of the axilla in patients with infiltrative breast carcinoma are compared to the results of histological quantitation of the nodal lymphoid tissue and its tumour deposits in 91 consecutive cases in which a standardized axillary dissection had been carried out. The study demonstrates that lymphoid tissue, even when present in large amounts (up to 6 cm2 on histology), is seldom palpable. What the clinician identifies in favourable cases is the tumour deposit itself. When little lymphoid tissue is present very small tumour deposits (0.2cm2) may be found on palpation, but large deposits (1 cm2) may be missed when surrounded by sufficient lymphoid tissue. These findings go far to explain the well documented unreliability of the nodal findings on axillary palpation in breast cancer.
Key wordsaxillary nodes palpation lymphoid tissue nodal metastases
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