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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2008 Apr 1;70(5):1468-71. Epub 2007 Oct 29.

Evaluation of breast sentinel lymph node coverage by standard radiation therapy fields.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Colorado Cancer Center, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.



Biopsy of the breast sentinel lymph node (SLN) is now a standard staging procedure for early-stage invasive breast cancer. The anatomic location of the breast SLN and its relationship to standard radiation fields has not been described.


A retrospective review of radiotherapy treatment planning data sets was performed in patients with breast cancer who had undergone SLN biopsy, and those with a surgical clip at the SLN biopsy site were identified. The location of the clip was evaluated relative to vertebral body level on an anterior-posterior digitally reconstructed radiograph, treated whole-breast tangential radiation fields, and standard axillary fields in 106 data sets meeting these criteria.


The breast SLN varied in vertebral body level position, ranging from T2 to T7 but most commonly opposite T4. The SLN clip was located below the base of the clavicle in 90%, and hence would be excluded from standard axillary radiotherapy fields where the inferior border is placed at this level. The clip was within the irradiated whole-breast tangent fields in 78%, beneath the superior-posterior corner multileaf collimators in 12%, and outside the tangent field borders in 10%.


Standard axillary fields do not encompass the lymph nodes at highest risk of containing tumor in breast cancer patients. Elimination of the superior-posterior corner MLCs from the tangent field design would result in inclusion of the breast SLN in 90% of patients treated with standard whole-breast irradiation.

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