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Ann Surg Oncol. 2009 Dec;16(12):3366-74. doi: 10.1245/s10434-009-0660-9. Epub 2009 Sep 4.

Axillary lymph node dissection for sentinel lymph node micrometastases may be safely omitted in early-stage breast cancer patients: long-term outcomes of a prospective study.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University Hospital Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.



To evaluate the long-term disease-free and overall survival of patients with sentinel lymph node (SLN) micrometastases, in whom a completion axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) was systematically omitted.


The use of step sectioning and immunohistochemistry for SLN analysis results in a more accurate histopathologic examination and a higher detection rate of micrometastases. However, the clinical relevance and therapeutic implications of SLN micrometastases remain a matter of debate.


In this prospective study, 236 SLN biopsies were performed in 234 consecutive early-stage breast cancer patients (T1, T2 <or= 3 cm, cN0 M0) between 1998 and 2002. The SLN were examined by step sectioning and stained with hematoxylin and eosin and immunohistochemistry. None of the patients with negative SLN or SLN micrometastases (International Union Against Cancer classification, >.2 mm to <or=2 mm) underwent a completion ALND or radiation to the axilla. Long-term overall and disease-free survivals were compared between patients with negative SLN and those with SLN micrometastases by log rank tests.


The SLN was negative in 55% of patients (123 of 224). SLN micrometastases were detected in 27 patients (27 of 224, 12%). After a median follow-up of 77 months (range, 24-106 months), neither locoregional recurrences nor distant metastases occurred in any of the 27 patients with SLN micrometastases. There were no statistically significant differences for overall (P = .656), locoregional (P = .174), and axillary and distant disease-free survival (P = .15) between patients with negative SLN and SLN micrometastases.


This analysis of unselected patients provides evidence that a completion level I and II ALND may be safely omitted in early-stage breast cancer patients with SLN micrometastases.

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