Mapping of Metastatic Level I Axillary Lymph Nodes in Patients with Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer.

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International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics


PURPOSE: We examined the distribution of pretreatment nodal metastases to the level I axilla (Ax-L1) to assess the appropriateness of current breast atlases and provide guidelines in relationship to easily identifiable anatomic landmarks for accurate delineation of this lymph node (LN) basin.

METHODS AND MATERIALS: Patients with newly diagnosed breast cancer and biopsy-proven metastatic Ax-L1 LNs were identified. We related the location of each LN to its most adjacent rib and its distance from the bottom of the humeral head, axillary vessels, and a line connecting the anterior aspects of the pectoralis and latissimus dorsi muscles (P-L line). LNs were mapped onto a representative planning computed tomography scan, and their distribution was used to validate the current Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology, and Radiotherapy Comparative Effectiveness breast atlases. Furthermore, we examined metastases to a subregion encompassing the superolateral Ax-L1, irradiation of which correlates highly with lymphedema.

RESULTS: We identified 106 eligible patients with 107 biopsied LNs. All LNs fell between the second and fifth ribs (mean, 3.8 ± 0.56). Mean distance from the inferior aspect of the humeral head was 4.3 ± 1.6 cm (range, 0.3-8.4). Mean distance from the inferior aspect of the axillary vessels was 2.9 ± 1.5 cm (range, -0.6 to 5.4). Mean distance from the P-L line was 0.01 ± 1.9 cm (range, -2.2 to 2.4); negative and positive values denote medial or lateral to the P-L line. A Radiation Therapy Oncology Group-compliant Ax-L1 consensus contour, created from contours by 4 attending breast radiation oncologists, partially or fully missed 45% of mapped LNs. European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology- and Radiotherapy Comparative Effectiveness-compliant Ax-L1 similarly missed 46% and 34% of mapped LNs, respectively. LNs were most frequently missed in the lateral direction. The superolateral Ax-L1 encompassed 9.3% of the mapped LNs.

CONCLUSIONS: A significant percentage of at-risk Ax-L1 tissue falls outside current contouring atlases. We propose expansion of the recommended Ax-L1 borders, most notably in the lateral direction.





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