Recent breast cancer study results not news to Oakwood physician

If you’ve turned on the TV, picked up a newspaper or turned on the radio recently, you’ve probably heard or seen the information on a new study, which has found that the painful removal of lymph nodes does not improve survival or prevent cancer recurrence in many women with early breast cancer.

This isn’t news to Oakwood breast surgeon Majd Aburabia, MD.

“It’s been discussed in conferences for years,” said Dr. Aburabia, who specializes in breast cancer and related surgery at the Oakwood Hospital & Medical Center in Dearborn. “I’ve been talking about it with my patients for months.”

The results of the study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, were known in September, but are just now being published.

The research grew out of efforts to reduce lymph node surgery in the armpits, which is called axillary dissection. It’s a painful procedure that can have negative side effects such as infections, fluid collecting in the arm pit area and lymphedema, a chronic swelling in the arm that can be disabling.

Despite the potential for those complications, removal of the lymph nodes had been standard practice for decades because of the belief that once the cancer reaches the nodes, it is more apt to spread throughout the body.

The research shows that for women who meet a certain criteria — those who may be in stage 1 or 2 of the disease, who account for about 20% of those diagnosed — taking out the cancerous nodes has no advantage.

Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can be just as effective because they can eradicate microscopic traces of cancer that traditional surgery cannot. Dr. Aburabia said she has discussed the issue with her patients already, and has had some opt to go the non-surgical route.

“I want them to know all of their options,” she said. “We always involve the patient in decision-making.”

She said the study confirms modern trends in the treatment of the disease and has the potential to change the way it is treated throughout the industry.

Dr. Aburabia also said physicians also learned that it can take years to learn the results of cancer treatments. The women in the study, most of who were in their middle 50s, were followed for an average of six years.

“It follows a trend in the advancement of treatment from a general, aggressive treatment to a more targeted, individual care,” she said. “You have to take the data and apply it on a case-by-case basis.”

To hear Dr. Aburabia’s interview on WJR, visit