How to improve low lymph node recovery rates from axillary clearance specimens of breast cancer. A short term audit

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To implement an audit scheme to increase the lymph node yield from axillary clearance specimens.


Two pathologists cut up each specimen after weighing it. The number of nodes and the dimensions of the largest and smallest nodes were recorded, together with the number of non-lymph node structures recovered. Fifty consecutive audited cases were compared with 50 consecutive cases assessed before the audit process.


It proved possible to increase the median number of lymph nodes from 10 to 22. There was an obvious learning period, during which the number of nodes recovered during the second pathologist's cut-up gradually decreased, while the total number remained relatively constant. The increase in lymph node yield resulted from the recovery of smaller nodes. The identification of lymph nodes also improved, and fewer non-lymph node structures were recovered by the end of the study.


Such an audit scheme can be recommended for all institutions where the lymph node yield of axillary clearance specimens seems suboptimal. The relevance of recovering more nodes remains to be determined; from this small series, it seems to have no clinical impact.

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