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Obesity can make physical examination of lymph nodes more difficult and change the way they appear on medical imaging scans, so Mayo Clinic researchers decided to take a closer look at the issue.
Their study included over 1,300 breast cancer patients who underwent ultrasounds of armpit (axillary) lymph nodes to check for cancer before they had surgery. About one-third of the women were obese, one-third were overweight and one-third were normal weight.
Being overweight or obese did not obscure the ultrasound images, and ultrasounds that showed no sign of cancer were actually more accurate in overweight and obese women than in those who were normal weight, the investigators found.
"I think we were surprised at these results," study senior author and breast cancer surgeon Dr. Tina Hieken said in a Mayo news release. "It should be very reassuring that regardless of the weight of the patient, axillary ultrasound is helpful."
She noted that doctors now have more experience in understanding how lymph nodes may appear in overweight and obese women.
The study was to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons, held recently in Las Vegas.
Ultrasound is one of several methods used to determine if breast cancer has spread.
The data and conclusions of research presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, May 2, 2014