Management of the axilla after neoadjuvant chemotherapy for clinically node positive breast cancer: A nationwide survey study in The Netherlands

G. Vugts*, A. J. G. Maaskant-Braat, W. K. de Roos, A. C. Voogd, G. A. P. Nieuwenhuijzen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Axillary pathologic complete response (pCR) to neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) is achieved in a substantial part of clinically node positive breast cancer patients. Treatment of the axilla after NAC varies widely, and new techniques to spare patients from an axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) are being introduced.
Methods: This Dutch nationwide survey regarding treatment of the initially clinically node positive axilla in patients receiving NAC was conducted amongst 148 surgical oncologists during November 2014–June 2015, to survey the diagnostic work-up, axillary mapping and willingness to omit ALND.
Results: Axillary ultrasound was considered a standard procedure in the diagnostic work-up by 99% of participants. The majority of 70% of participants stated that ALND could possibly be omitted in node positive patients with a favourable response to NAC. A positive correlation was observed between the total amount of patients treated, versus patients receiving NAC (P < 0.01). A total of 93 respondents performed axillary response evaluation after NAC, using imaging (72%), excision of localized lymph nodes (56%) or sentinel node biopsy (SNB; 45%). Decision-making in omitting ALND was influenced by the presence of N2–3 disease, patient age and type of breast surgery. Multivariable analysis showed that clinicians who administered NAC more often, were more likely to omit ALND (P < 0.01).
Discussion: The majority of surgeons are inclined to omit ALND in case of an axillary pCR. A large variety of techniques is being used to identify a pCR. The lack of consensus on this topic indicates the need for guidelines based on the best available evidence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)956-964
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Surgical Oncology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016


  • Breast cancer
  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy
  • Axillary treatment
  • Axillary lymph node dissection
  • Pathological complete response

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