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Anticancer Res. 2014 Mar;34(3):1087-97.

Clinical utility of ultrasound-needle biopsy for preoperative staging of the axilla in invasive breast cancer.

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  • 1School of Public Health (A27), Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney 2006, Australia.


Sentinel node biopsy (SNB) has largely replaced axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) as the standard-of-care for nodal staging in invasive breast cancer. Preoperative imaging-based staging of the axilla using ultrasound with selective ultrasound-guided needle biopsy (UNB) is moderately-sensitive and identifies approximately 50% of patients (pooled estimate from meta-analysis 50%; 95% confidence interval=43%-57%) with axillary nodal metastases prior to surgical intervention. It is also a highly specific staging strategy that allows patients to be triaged to ALND based on a positive result (positive predictive value approximates 100%), thus avoiding two-stage axillary surgery and unnecessary SNB. Axillary UNB has a good clinical utility: based on an updated meta-analysis, we found that a median proportion of 18.4% (inter-quartile range=13.3%-27.4%) from 7,097 patients can be effectively triaged to axillary treatment and can avoid SNB. However, the changing algorithm of axillary surgical treatment means that UNB will have relatively less utility where surgeons omit ALND for minimal nodal metastatic disease. Research that allows enhanced application of ultrasound and UNB to specifically identify and biopsy sentinel nodes and to discriminate between patients with minimal versus advanced nodal metastatic involvement is likely to have the most impact on future management of the axilla in breast cancer.


Axillary staging; breast cancer; needle biopsy; node metastases; preoperative staging; review; sensitivity/specificity; sentinel node; test utility; ultrasound

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