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Eur J Surg Oncol. 2013 Jul;39(7):760-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ejso.2013.03.026. Epub 2013 Apr 28.

Validation of a technique using microbubbles and contrast enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) to biopsy sentinel lymph nodes (SLN) in pre-operative breast cancer patients with a normal grey-scale axillary ultrasound.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, Hermitage Lane, Maidstone, Kent ME16 9QQ, United Kingdom.



In patients with breast cancer, grey-scale ultrasound often fails to identify lymph node (LN) metastases. We aimed to validate the technique of contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) as a test to identify sentinel lymph node (SLN) metastases and reduce the numbers of patients requiring a completion axillary node clearance (ANC).


371 patients with breast cancer and a normal axillary ultrasound were recruited. Patients received periareolar intra-dermal injection of microbubble contrast agent. Breast lymphatics were visualised by CEUS and followed to identify and biopsy axillary SLN. Patients then underwent standard tumour excision and either SLN excision (benign biopsy) or axillary clearance (malignant biopsy) with subsequent histopathological analysis.


The technique failed in 46 patients, 6 patients had indeterminate biopsy results and 24 patients were excluded. In 295 patients with a conclusive SLN biopsy, the sensitivity of the technique was 61% and specificity 100%. Given a benign SLN biopsy result, the post-test probability that a patient had SLN metastases was 8%. 35 patients were found to have SLN metastases and had a primary ANC (29 macrometastases and 6 micrometastases/ITC). There were 22 false negative results (10 macrometastases and 12 micrometastases). Macrometastases in core biopsy specimens correlated with LN macrometastases on surgical excision.


Pre-operative biopsy of SLN reduced the numbers of patients requiring completion ANC. Despite the low sensitivity, only 22 patients (8%) with a benign SLN biopsy were subsequently found to have LN metastases. Without the confirmation of macrometastases on core biopsy specimens, patients with micrometastases/ITC may be inadvertently selected for primary ANC.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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