Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital in Washington are seeking to avoid false negatives in which, despite the "sentinel" lymph node appearing clean of cancer cells, the cancer spreads.
Their pilot study has already identified several breast cancer molecular markers.
"If we find markers that can be significantly associated with patients that develop axillary metastasis, we can check for these markers at an early stage of the cancer management," researcher Luciane Cavalli says in a statement. "That will give physicians a chance to treat what is otherwise an unseen metastasis."
Cavalli and colleagues compared breast cancer cells and sentinel lymph nodes removed from 15 patients whose cancer spread to the lymph nodes. They found genes -- related to tumor growth -- that were either amplified or deleted in both samples.
The study findings are being presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington.