Axillary lymph node surgical treatment
Nowadays, the overall attention is focused on de-escalating treatments for breast cancer (BC) including surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The introduction of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) has led to less invasive surgical approaches for accurately staging the axilla, with axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) progressively confined to a limited group of patients. One of the goal of surgery in de-escalating approaches is to reduce surgical morbidity by restricting or avoiding axillary surgery with no effect on survival. In this context the importance of imaging study for preoperative identification of axillary metastasis, in order to reduce axillary surgery, is gradually improving while the role of intraoperative assessment of sentinel nodes is progressively becoming limited to restricted groups of patients. According to the results of the ACOSOG Z0011 and following the most important guidelines, ALND can be safely omitted in selected patients treated with breast conserving surgery (BCS) with one or two positive SLNB while the adoption of SLNB positive alone in patients undergoing mastectomy is not yet defined. The increased employment of neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) and the use of SLNB in patients after NAC plays an important role in de-escalation of axillary surgery in this group of patients. However current studies on this topic are still controversial, mainly about clinically positive lymph nodes (cN+) pre NAC patients or how to manage positive SLNB in post NAC patients. Some authors have collected predictive factors of positive non sentinel lymph nodes (NSLNs) in nomograms, considered an useful tool to avoid unnecessary further surgery. Elderly women represent specific group of patients where the axillary approach needs to be properly resized. The management of axilla in BC is in continuous evolution and ongoing studies could make even SLNB useless in the next future.