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Gaps Persist in Use of Less Invasive Breast Cancer Procedure

Non-white women, aged and the poor less likely to receive sentinel lymph node biopsy, research shows

TUESDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- The use of a less invasive form of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) during breast cancer surgery increased substantially in the United States from 1998 to 2005, researchers say. However, there are still disparities in terms of which women receive the therapy.

The study by the American Cancer Society found that non-white women, women aged 72 and older, and women living in poor areas of the country were less likely to receive the SLNB staging test than those who were white, younger, or live in more affluent areas.

In women diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors check to see if the cancer has spread from the breast tissue into neighboring lymph nodes. This can be done by removing many lymph nodes in a procedure called axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) or by removing a few lymph nodes (SLNB), which is associated with easier recovery and fewer long-term problems, according to background information in the study.

In this study, researchers analyzed national data on women who had breast cancer surgery between 1998 and 2005. Clinical care guidelines were changed in 1998 to allow surgeons to use SLNB in certain patients.

The proportion of patients who had SLNB increased from 26.8 percent in 1998 to 65.5 percent in 2005, the study found.

But the researchers also found that disparities in the use of SLNB persisted during those years. For example, in 1998, 29 percent of white women received SLNB, compared with 26 percent of black women, and 35 percent of Hispanic women. By 2005, the rates were 70 percent, 64 percent, and 67 percent, respectively.

According to clinical guidelines, SNLB should only be done in centers that have experienced teams. This study didn't examine whether the disparities in access to SLNB may be related to lack of experience at certain facilities.

"The disparities that were related to receipt of SLNB in this study are particularly important in light of the clinical advantages associated with this technique. Better outcomes have been reported for patients receiving SLNB than for patients receiving ALND," the researchers wrote.

The study was published online March 25 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"Given America's track record of disparate care, I suppose we should not be surprised that racial and ethnic minorities were disproportionately deprived of another medial advance," Dr. Stephen B. Edge, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, wrote in an accompanying editorial. "However, this observation is profoundly disappointing and sobering. It is yet another call for us to redouble efforts to identify and correct the root cause of disparities."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about SLNB.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, March 25, 2008
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