Predicting pathological axillary lymph node status with ultrasound following neoadjuvant therapy for breast cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Purpose: High-performing imaging and predictive markers are warranted to minimize surgical overtreatment of the axilla in breast cancer (BC) patients receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT). Here we have investigated whether axillary ultrasound (AUS) could identify axillary lymph node (ALN) metastasis (ALNM) pre-NACT and post-NACT for BC. The association of tumor, AUS features and mammographic density (MD) with axillary-pathological complete response (axillary-pCR) post-NACT was also assessed. Methods: The NeoDense-study cohort (N = 202, NACT during 2014–2019), constituted a pre-NACT cohort, whereas patients whom had a cytology verified ALNM pre-NACT and an axillary dissection performed (N = 114) defined a post-NACT cohort. AUS characteristics were prospectively collected pre- and post-NACT. The diagnostic accuracy of AUS was evaluated and stratified by histological subtype and body mass index (BMI). Predictors of axillary-pCR were analyzed, including MD, using simple and multivariable logistic regression models. Results: AUS demonstrated superior performance for prediction of ALNM pre-NACT in comparison to post-NACT, as reflected by the positive predictive value (PPV) 0.94 (95% CI 0.89–0.97) and PPV 0.76 (95% CI 0.62–0.87), respectively. We found no difference in AUS performance according to neither BMI nor histological subtype. Independent predictors of axillary-pCR were: premenopausal status, ER-negativity, HER2-overexpression, and high MD. Conclusion: Baseline AUS could, to a large extent, identify ALNM; however, post-NACT, AUS was insufficient to determine remaining ALNM. Thus, our results support the surgical staging of the axilla post-NACT. Baseline tumor biomarkers and patient characteristics were predictive of axillary-pCR. Larger, multicenter studies are needed to evaluate the performance of AUS post-NACT.


External organisations
  • Skåne University Hospital
  • Aarhus University Hospital
  • Aarhus University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Cancer and Oncology


  • Axillary lymph nodes, Breast cancer, Imaging, Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, Ultrasound
Original languageEnglish
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021
Publication categoryResearch