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Ann Surg. 2003 May;237(5):607-12; discussion 612-3.

Extracapsular extension of the sentinel lymph node metastasis: a predictor of nonsentinel node tumor burden.

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Department of Surgery, University of North Carolina, 3010 Old Clinic Building, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.



To identify predictors of nonsentinel node (NSN) tumor involvement in patients with a tumor-involved sentinel node (SN).


For many breast cancer patients who undergo intraoperative lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymphadenectomy (LM/SL), the SN is the only tumor-involved axillary node. Associations between NSN tumor involvement and several clinical and histopathologic factors have been identified. The authors hypothesize that extracapsular extension (ECE) of the SN metastasis is highly predictive of NSN tumor involvement.


Between May 1998 and December 2001, 260 patients (263 cases) with clinical T1 or T2 (<5.0 cm) breast cancer underwent LM/SL at the University of North Carolina, using a combined blue dye and technetium sulfur colloid technique. In all cases with a tumor-involved SN, axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) was recommended. Statistical analysis, with Pearson chi-square tests, Fisher exact test, and multiple logistic regression, was performed.


The SN contained tumor in 74 (28.1%) cases. ALND was performed in 70 of the 74 cases. ECE of the SN metastasis was present in 18 (25.7%) of the 70 cases. Patients with ECE of the SN metastasis were more likely to have NSN tumor involvement and had a greater total number of tumor-involved nodes than patients without ECE of the SN metastasis. Increasing size of the SN metastasis and increasing size of the primary tumor, examined as continuous variables, were associated with an increased likelihood of NSN tumor involvement on univariate analysis. However, only ECE of the SN metastasis was associated with NSN tumor involvement on multivariate analysis.


ECE of the SN metastasis is a strong predictor of NSN tumor involvement. All patients with ECE of the SN metastasis should undergo mandatory completion ALND.

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