Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Ann Surg. 1998 May;227(5):645-51; discussion 651-3.

Guidelines for sentinel node biopsy and lymphatic mapping of patients with breast cancer.

Author information

  • 1Department of Surgery, University of South Florida College of Medicine at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa 33612, USA.



To define preliminary guidelines for the use of lymphatic mapping techniques in patients with breast cancer.


Lymphatic mapping techniques have the potential of changing the standard of surgical care of patients with breast cancer.


Four hundred sixty-six consecutive patients with newly diagnosed breast cancer underwent a prospective trial of intraoperative lymphatic mapping using a combination of vital blue dye and filtered technetium-labeled sulfur colloid. A sentinel lymph node (SLN) was defined as a blue node and/or a hot node with a 10:1 ex vivo gamma probe ratio of SLN to non-SLN. All SLNs were bivalved, step-sectioned, and examined with routine hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) stains and immunohistochemical stains for cytokeratin. A cytokeratin-positive SLN was defined as any SLN with a defined cluster of positive-staining cells that could be confirmed histologically on H&E sections.


Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) or stereotactic core biopsy was used to diagnose 195 of the 422 patients (46.2%) with breast cancer; 227 of 422 patients (53.8%) were diagnosed by excisional biopsy. The SLN was successfully identified in 440 of 466 patients (94.4%). Failure to identify an SLN to the axilla intraoperatively occurred in 26 of 466 patients (5.6%). In all patients who failed lymphatic mappings, a complete axillary dissection was performed, and metastatic disease was documented in 4 of 26 (15.4%) of these patients. Of the 26 patients who failed lymphatic mapping, 11 of 227 (4.8%) were diagnosed by excisional biopsy and 15 of 195 (7.7%) were diagnosed by FNA or stereotactic core biopsy. Of interest, there was only one skip metastasis (defined as a negative SLN with higher nodes in the chain being positive) in a patient with prior excisional biopsy. A mean of 1.92 SLNs were harvested per patient. Twenty percent of the SLNs removed were positive for metastatic disease in 105 of 440 (23.8%) of the patients. Descriptive information on 844 SLNs was evaluated: 339 of 844 (40.2%) were hot, 272 of 844 (32.2%) were blue, and 233 of 844 (27.6%) were both hot and blue. At least one positive SLN was found in 4 of 87 patients (4.6%) with noninvasive (ductal carcinoma in situ) tumors. A greater incidence of positive SLNs was found in patients who had invasive tumors of increasing size: 18 of 112 patients (16%) with tumor size between 0.1 mm and 1 cm had positive SLNs. However, a significantly greater percentage of patients (43 of 131 [32.8%] with tumor size between 1 and 2 cm and 31 of 76 [40.8%] with tumor size between 2 and 5 cm) had positive SLNs. The highest incidence of positive SLNs was seen with patients of tumor size greater than 5 cm; in this group, 9 of 12 (75%) had a positive SLN (p < 0.001).


This study demonstrates that accurate SLN identification was obtained when all blue and hot lymph nodes were harvested as SLNs. Therefore, lymphatic mapping and SLN biopsy is most effective when a combination of vital blue dye and radiolabeled sulfur colloid is used. Furthermore, these data demonstrate that patients with ductal carcinoma in situ or small tumors exhibit a low but significant incidence of metastatic disease to the axillary lymph nodes and may benefit most from selective lymphadenectomy, avoiding the unnecessary complications of a complete axillary lymph node dissection.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk