Sentinel Node in Clinical Practice : Implications for Breast Cancer Treatment and Prognosis

Abstract: The introduction of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) has conveyed several new issues, such as the risk of false negativity, long-term consequences, the prognostic significance of micrometastases and whether ALND can be omitted in sentinel lymph node- (SLN) positive patients.Archived SLN specimens from 50 false negative patients and 107 true negative controls were serially sectioned and stained with immunohistochemistry. The detection rate of previously unknown metastases did not differ between the false and the true negative patients. The risk of false negativity was higher in patients with multifocal or hormone receptor-negative tumours, or if only one SLN was found.In a Swedish multicentre cohort, 2216 SLN-negative patients in whom ALND was omitted were followed up for a median of 65 months. The isolated axillary recurrence rate was only 1.0%, and the overall survival was high (93%).The survival of 3369 breast cancer patients (2383 node-negative (pN0), 107 isolated tumour cells (pN0(i+), 123 micrometastases (pN1mi) and 756 macrometastases (pN1)) was analysed. The 5-year cause-specific and event-free survival was worse for pN1mi and pN1 patients than for pN0 patients. There was no difference in survival between pN0(i+) and pN0 patients.Tumour and SLN characteristics in 869 SLN-positive patients were compared between those with and without non-SLN metastases, and the Tenon score was calculated. The risk of non-SLN metastases was higher in case of SLN macrometastases (compared with micrometastases), a high positive/total SLN ratio and Elston grade 3 tumours, and increased with increasing tumour size. The area under the curve (AUC) for the Tenon score was 0.65, and the test thus performed inadequately in this population.In conclusion, despite the risk of false negativity, SLNB with omission of ALND in SLN-negative patients appears to be safe even in the long term. The presence of micrometastases is of prognostic importance and should entail adjuvant treatment. The need for ALND in patients with SLN micro- and even macrometastases has been questioned, but the occurrence of non-SLN metastases is hard to predict, and strong evidence for the safe omission of ALND is lacking.