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Open Access Study protocol

The clinical relevance of axillary reverse mapping (ARM): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Elisabeth G Klompenhouwer1, Paul D Gobardhan2*, Martinus A Beek2, Adri C Voogd3456 and Ernest JT Luiten2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Radiology, Catharina Hospital Eindhoven, Eindhoven, the Netherlands

2 Department of Surgery, Amphia Hospital, Molengracht 21, 4818, CK Breda, The Netherlands

3 Department of Epidemiology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

4 Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

5 Research Institute Growth and Development (GROW), Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

6 Eindhoven Cancer Registry, Comprehensive Cancer Center South, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

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Trials 2013, 14:111  doi:10.1186/1745-6215-14-111

Published: 25 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) in patients with breast cancer has the potential to induce side-effects, including upper-limb lymphedema. Axillary reverse mapping (ARM) is a technique that enables discrimination of the lymphatic drainage of the breast from that of the upper limb in the axillary lymph node (LN) basin. If lymphedema is caused by removing these lymphatics and nodes in the upper limb, the possibility of identifying these lymphatics would enable surgeons to preserve them. The aim of this study is to determine the clinical relevance of selective axillary LN and lymphatic preservation by means of ARM. To minimize the risk of overlooking tumor-positive ARM nodes and the associated risk of undertreatment, we will only include patients with a tumor-positive sentinel lymph node (SLN). Patients who are candidates for ALND because of a proven positive axillary LN at clinical examination can be included in a registration study.

Methods/design

The study will enroll 280 patients diagnosed with SLN biopsy-proven metastasis of invasive breast cancer with an indication for a completion ALND. Patients will be randomized to undergo standard ALND or an ALND in which the ARM nodes and their corresponding lymphatics will be left in situ. Primary outcome is the presence of axillary surgery-related lymphedema at 6, 12, and 24 months post-operatively, measured by the water-displacement method. Secondary outcome measures include pain, paresthesia, numbness, and loss of shoulder mobility, quality of life, and axillary recurrence risk.

Discussion

The benefit of ALND in patients with a positive SLN is a subject of debate. For many patients, an ALND will remain the treatment of choice. This multicenter randomized trial will provide evidence of whether or not axillary LN preservation by means of ARM decreases the side-effects of an ALND. Enrolment of patients will start in April 2013 in five breast-cancer centers in the Netherlands, and is expected to conclude by April 2016.

Trial registration

TC3698

Keywords:
Breast cancer; Axillary lymph node dissection; Breast cancer-related lymphedema; Axillary reverse mapping