Axillary lymph node (LN) metastasis is one of the most important predictors of recurrence and survival in breast cancer, and accurate assessment of LN involvement is crucial. Determining extent of residual disease is key for surgical planning after neoadjuvant therapy. The aim of the study was to evaluate the diagnostic reliability of MRI for nodal disease in locally advanced breast cancer patients treated with neoadjuvant endocrine therapy (NET).
Thirty-three clinically node-positive locally advanced breast cancer patients who underwent NET and surgery were prospectively enrolled. Two radiologists reviewed the axillary nodes at 3 separate time points MRI examinations at baseline (before the first treatment regimen), interim (following at least 2 months after the first cycle and prior to crossing-over), and preoperative (after the final administration of therapy and immediately before surgery). According to LN status after surgery, imaging features and diagnostic performance were analyzed.
All 33 patients had a target LN reduction, the greatest treatment benefit from week 8 to week 16.
There was a positive correlation between the maximal diameter of the most suspicious LN measured by MRI and pathology during and after NET, being highest at therapy completion (r = 0.6, P ≤ .001). Mean and median differences of maximal diameter of the most suspicious LN were higher with MRI than with pathology. Seven of 33 patients demonstrated normal posttreatment MRI nodal status (yrN0). Of these 7 yrN0, 3 exhibited no metastasis on final pathology (ypN0), 2 ypN1 and 2 ypN2. Reciprocally, MRI diagnosed 3 cases of ypN0 as yrN + . Diffusion -weighted imaging (DWI) was the only axillary node characteristic significant when associated with pathological node status (χ2(4) = 8.118, P = .072).
Performance characteristics of MRI were not completely sufficient to preclude surgical axillary staging. To our knowledge, this is the first study on MRI LN assessment following NET in locally advanced breast cancer, and further studies with larger sample sizes are required to consolidate the results of this preliminary study.
Institutional Review Board approval was obtained (this current manuscript is from a prospective, open-label, randomized single-center cohort substudy of the NEOLETEXE trial). NEOLETEXE, a phase 2 clinical trial, was registered on March 23rd, 2015 in the National trial database of Norway and approved by the Regional Ethical Committee of the South-Eastern Health Region in Norway; registration number: REK-SØ-84–2015