When is armpit radiated?

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Question from BJW: What determines whether the axilla (armpit) will be radiated?
Answers - Lydia Komarnicky, M.D. There are certain characteristics that we look for on the pathology report that would indicate whether the axilla should be radiated or not. This has to do with the number of lymph nodes involved, how large the lymph nodes were, and even if there's some extension outside of the lymph node into the soft tissue.

We look at these characteristics very carefully, because there are risks to treating the lymph nodes underneath the arm along with surgery, especially if a large number of lymph nodes have been removed.

Radiation to the lymph-node-bearing areas can increase the likelihood of lymphedema of the arm, as well as some potential damage to the nerves that come through the armpit area, although this is certainly rare. Therefore, we evaluate pathology reports very carefully before we make this recommendation.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. All of these treatment decisions are individualized for each patient.
Lydia Komarnicky, M.D. Now that more and more patients seem to be getting the sentinel lymph node procedure, we are seeing less in the way of arm swelling, which is a wonderful thing.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Radiation Therapy Updates featured Lydia T. Komarnicky, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about advances in radiation therapy: the newest and best techniques, combining radiation therapy with other treatments, ways to manage, reduce or eliminate side effects, and more.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in March 2004.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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