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Keywords:

  • breast;
  • gender;
  • lymphatic anatomy;
  • lymphatic drainage;
  • symmetry

Abstract

Current understanding of the lymphatics draining the breast is controversial, despite its known importance in the spread of breast cancer. Similarly, knowledge regarding the spatial distribution of primary tumours in the breast is limited. This study sought to test commonly held assumptions in this field, including: (i) that breast lymphatic drainage and tumour prevalence are symmetric between the left and right sides of the body, (ii) that males and females have the same drainage patterns and tumour prevalences, and (iii) that lymphatic drainage in the breast occurs independently to different node fields. This study has used lymphoscintigraphy data from 2304 breast cancer patients treated at the RPAH Medical Centre, Sydney, Australia. Symmetry of lymphatic drainage and tumour distribution as well as gender differences were tested using Fisher’s exact test. Drainage independence was assessed using Fisher’s exact test, and a multivariate probit model was used to test for drainage correlations. Results showed that the breasts are likely to have symmetric lymphatic drainage and tumour prevalence, and that there is no significant difference between males and females. Furthermore, results showed that direct lymphatic drainage of the breasts is likely to be independent between node fields. Collectively, these results serve to further our understanding of lymphatic anatomy and the distribution of tumours in the breast.