Article Abstract

Management of the axilla in metaplastic breast carcinoma

Authors: Brittany L. Murphy, Robert T. Fazzio, Tanya L. Hoskin, Katrina N. Glazebrook, Michael G. Keeney, Elizabeth B. Habermann, Tina J. Hieken


Background: Metaplastic breast cancer (MBC), characterized by admixed epithelial, squamous or mesenchymal elements, constitutes <1% of breast cancers and has a poor prognosis but a paradoxically low reported rate of axillary lymph node (LN) involvement. Due to its rarity, data on appropriate axillary management is lacking, prompting this investigation of LN status and outcomes.
Methods: We identified 41 MBC patients treated at our institution 2001–2011 who were followed for a median of 66 months. Statistical analyses evaluated axillary ultrasound (AUS), fine needle aspiration (FNA), and sentinel LN biopsy (SLNB) in association with LN status.
Results: Median tumor size was 2.7 cm and 76% were triple-negative. Twenty-three patients (56%) had preoperative AUS: 9 (39%) showed ≥1 suspicious LN, 6 proceeded to LN FNA and 3 were confirmed positive. Six patients had neoadjuvant chemotherapy, including 2 FNA LN+. Ten patients were LN+ at operation. Among 19 patients undergoing AUS and axillary surgery, AUS ± FNA sensitivity was 100% and specificity was 94%. LN positivity correlated with increasing tumor size, grade and angiolymphatic invasion. 16 patients recurred, 63% with distant disease (10/16) and one with isolated axillary disease after a negative SLNB not preceded by AUS. Overall SLNB accuracy was 96% (23/24), but absent preoperative AUS, 1/7 (14%) of SLNBs were falsely negative.
Conclusions: Our study is the first to specifically address the performance and utility of AUS/FNA and SLNB for MBC patients. AUS/FNA at diagnosis followed by SLN surgery provided accurate nodal staging and critical prognostic information to inform treatment recommendations. We recommend this approach for axillary management of MBC patients.