Extra-nodal extension is a significant prognostic factor in lymph node positive breast cancer

Presence of lymph node (LN) metastasis is a strong prognostic factor in breast cancer, whereas the importance of extra-nodal extension and other nodal tumor features have not yet been fully recognized. Here, we examined microscopic features of lymph node metastases and their prognostic value in a population-based cohort of node positive breast cancer (n = 218), as part of the prospective Norwegian Breast Cancer Screening Program NBCSP (1996–2009). Sections were reviewed for the largest metastatic tumor diameter (TD-MET), nodal afferent and efferent vascular invasion (AVI and EVI), extra-nodal extension (ENE), number of ENE foci, as well as circumferential (CD-ENE) and perpendicular (PD-ENE) diameter of extra-nodal growth. Number of positive lymph nodes, EVI, and PD-ENE were significantly increased with larger primary tumor (PT) diameter. Univariate survival analysis showed that several features of nodal metastases were associated with disease-free (DFS) or breast cancer specific survival (BCSS). Multivariate analysis demonstrated an independent prognostic value of PD-ENE (with 3 mm as cut-off value) in predicting DFS and BCSS, along with number of positive nodes and histologic grade of the primary tumor (for DFS: P = 0.01, P = 0.02, P = 0.01, respectively; for BCSS: P = 0.02, P = 0.008, P = 0.02, respectively). To conclude, the extent of ENE by its perpendicular diameter was independently prognostic and should be considered in line with nodal tumor burden in treatment decisions of node positive breast cancer.