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Study offers new guidance following mastectomy

woman indoorsFor women who’ve had breast cancer found in just a few lymph nodes under their arms, the benefit of radiation treatment following mastectomy hasn’t been entirely clear. But a new study has found that women with any positive lymph nodes are likely to benefit from radiation. Researchers, publishing in the journal The Lancet, looked at data from almost 3,800 women who had participated in clinical trials from 1964 to 1986 and received a mastectomy and lymph node removal, followed by either radiation to the chest wall and other areas or no radiation. These women had either no cancer detected in lymph nodes, had cancer in one to three lymph nodes or cancer in four or more lymph nodes. After following them for an average of 11 years, the scientists found that being treated with radiation reduced the risk of a cancer recurrence by 32 percent and the risk of dying from breast cancer by 20 percent in those who had cancer present in one to three lymph nodes. Those women with four or more involved lymph nodes reduced by 21 percent the likelihood of having cancer come back and were 13 percent less likely to die of breast cancer after undergoing radiation therapy. The risk of recurrence and death in those with negative lymph nodes was not affected by undergoing radiation. Having undergone chemotherapy or hormonal therapy also did not seem to affect radiation benefits. Although more research is needed, the findings could help guide treatment for women with few positive lymph nodes.