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Am J Surg. 2002 Jan;183(1):23-7.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy results in less postoperative morbidity compared with axillary lymph node dissection for breast cancer.

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  • 1Division of Surgical Oncology, Department of Surgery, Ohio State University, N914 Doan Hall, 410 W. 10th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210, USA. Burak.1@osu.edu



This study was designed to compare the postoperative morbidity and socioeconomic impact of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) with axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) in patients with early stage breast cancer.


A prospective, nonrandomized, controlled study was designed to include patients who underwent breast conservation surgery and SLNB +/- ALND. Group A consisted of patients who had a negative SLNB and did not go on to completion ALND. Group B consisted of patients who underwent a SLNB followed by a completion ALND because either (1) their sentinel node contained cancer or (2) they were within the validation phase of our institution's sentinel lymph node protocol. Patients were evaluated with a questionnaire and underwent a standardized physical examination to determine arm circumference.


Data were obtained from 96 patients with a mean follow-up period of 15 months (range 8 to 29). Significant differences were seen in subjective measurements of arm complaints and arm numbness (P <0.001), with fewer complaints reported in group A. The difference in mid-bicep and antecubital fossa circumferences was significant when comparing the ratio of the procedure arm with the nonprocedure arm and when subtracting the nonprocedure arm from the procedure arm (P <0.003 and P <0.016, respectively) in favor of group A. Axillary surgery was performed as an outpatient procedure in 88% of group A patients, compared with 15% in group B (P <0.001). Furthermore, 71% of group A patients returned to "normal activity" in less than 4 days, in comparison with 7% of group B (P <0.001).


SLNB results in less postoperative morbidity in terms of subjective arm complaints and mid-arm swelling. Expeditious return to work or normal activity after SLNB has potentially significant socioeconomic consequences.

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