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Number of lymph nodes tied to cancer survival

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Researchers at the Yale Cancer Center are the first to show a link between the number of lymph nodes in breast cancer patients and their chances of long-term survival. In a study published in the journal Cancer, researchers found a relationship between the number of lymph nodes in the armpit of breast cancer patients and five-year survival rates.

Patients showing no evidence of breast cancer spread to the lymph nodes — but with 20 or more lymph nodes — were found to have a greater risk of dying of metastatic breast cancer after five years than patients who had fewer than 20 lymph nodes. The five-year survival rate for patients with 20 or more tumor-free lymph nodes was 84.7 percent, compared to 96.3 percent for patients with fewer than 20 tumor-free lymph nodes.

Spread of breast cancer to the lymph nodes is the oldest and most reliable indicator of disease outcome. While previous studies have shown the relationship between the number of tumor-positive lymph nodes and poor prognosis, none have shown a relationship between total number of lymph nodes and the chance for survival.