The researchers examined 104 axillary lymph nodes from 77 patients. Five-year follow-up data were available for all patients, 33 of whom had disease recurrence within that time. They found that, regardless of whether the nodes contained tumor cells, the numbers of two different sets of immune cells, CD4 T cells and dendritic cells, were correlated with disease-free survival. Moreover, for this group of patients, the predictive power of the immune profiles was better than that of any other clinical parameters, including tumor size and extent or size of lymph node metastases.
All patients in this study had some lymph nodes that contained tumor cells, and the results suggest that for such patients, immune profile data from axillary nodes hold additional information on the probability of disease recurrence. An important open question is whether immune profile information from lymph nodes can predict risk of recurrence even in women whose cancers are caught at a very early stage where they have not yet spread to any lymph nodes.