In this paper, we proposed a mechanistic breast cancer survival model based on the axillary lymph node chain structure, considering lymph nodes as a potential dissemination arrangement. We assume a naive breast cancer treatment protocol consisting of exposing patients first to a chemotherapy treatment on r intervals at k-cycles separated by equal time intervals, and then they proceed to surgery. Our model, different from former ones, accommodates a quantity of contaminated lymph nodes, which is observed during surgery. We assume a generalised negative binomial survival distribution for the unknown number of contaminated lymph nodes after surgery, which, during an unknown period, may potentially propagate the disease. Estimation is based on a maximum likelihood approach. A simulation study assesses the coverage probability of asymptotic confidence intervals when small or moderate samples are considered. A Brazilian breast cancer data illustrate the applicability of our modelling. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.