Limited studies performed a comprehensive assessment of risk factors for internal mammary lymph nodes (IMLN) metastasis, and disease-free survival (DFS) difference between IMLN-positive and IMLN-negative breast cancer (BC) patients undergoing IMLN dissection and systemic therapies was not clear.
A retrospective study included 1977 BC patients from Western China Clinical Cooperation Group between January 2005 and December 2012. The impact of clinicopathological factors on the occurrence of IMLN metastasis was assessed in univariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses, and a nomogram (model) was constructed to predict the IMLN status. DFS difference was evaluated in univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses between IMLN-negative and IMLN-positive patients, and univariate analysis was performed to compare DFS between individuals with high and low IMLN metastasis risk defined by proposed nomogram.
Of 1977 enrolled patients, 514 cases underwent IMLN dissection and 1463 cases did not undergo IMLN irradiation or dissection. We found that initial disease symptoms and signs, mammographic calcification, tumor site, number of positive axillary lymph nodes (ALNs), American Joint Committee on Cancer pT stage, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 status were associated with IMLN metastasis (all P < .05). Those variables were included in nomogram, whose predictive ability was better than that of ALN classification (area under the curve: 0.82 vs 0.76, P < .001). Univariate cox proportional hazards model indicated that better DFS was observed in IMLN-negative patients than IMLN-positive group (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.87, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.05–3.34; P = .04), whereas no significant differences in DFS (HR = 0.99, 95% CI = 0.49–2.00; P = .97) were found after adjusting patient-, disease-, and treatment-related factors.
Nipple inversion, mammographic calcification, larger tumor size, medial tumor site, negative HER-2 status, and more positive ALNs are independent risk factors for IMLN metastasis, and the individualized nomogram is a feasible tool to predict the status of IMLN. Equivalent DFS was found between positive and negative IMLN patients who all accepted IMLN dissection and systemic therapies.